Lack of transparency in He Fangmei’s detention raises concerns about his well-being and that of his children
Human rights defender He Fangmei (何方美) has been missing for three months after leading a protest outside a local government office in Huixian, Xinxiang, Henan province on October 9, 2020. He Fangmei’s husband, Li Xin, has been unreachable since he was taken to Beijing by individuals believed to be Huixian local police five days after his wife disappeared. He Fangmei is pregnant and has two young children, one of whom is disabled and requires regular medical care.
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He Fangmei (何方美) is a health rights advocate who campaigns for vaccine safety and access to remedies for victims of defective vaccines. She began demanding accountability and compensation after her daughter was crippled by a neurological condition after receiving faulty vaccines in March 2018 when the child was ten months old. She then co-founded “Home for Vaccine Babies” (疫苗宝宝之家), an informal network of families whose young children became seriously ill or disabled as a result of receiving faulty vaccines. She and her husband Li Xin travel to Beijing frequently to seek medical care for their daughter and to ask government offices in the capital to press for state and business accountability for the harms suffered by those who have received defective vaccines and their families. In March 2019, she was arrested while fundraising on the streets of Beijing with other families affected by faulty vaccines. She was then taken back to Henan and held until she was put on trial in November 2019 for “stirring up quarrels and causing trouble”. In January 2020, she was released after local prosecutors dropped the charges against her.
On October 2, 2020, He Fangmei went to the Huixian Municipal Government Office and splattered black ink at the main entrance, to protest the government’s failure to provide her with medicine for her daughter’s illness. and compensation for her detention in 2019. She was also protesting the tight police surveillance and movement restrictions against her and her family that have hampered their journey to Beijing, where her daughter is seeking better medical care. The local public security bureau issued a 10-day administrative detention order against her, but decided to suspend her execution because she is pregnant.
On October 9, 2020, He Fangmei went to the same government office and splattered the main entrance with black paint. She then became unreachable between October 9 and October 10, 2020. She is an active Twitter user and acquaintances took over the administration of her account after her disappearance and began posting updates and concerns since the 10 October regarding his apparent enforced disappearance.
Over the next few weeks, acquaintances and families of victims of defective vaccines made several phone calls to the local public safety office, but either went unanswered or the person who answered said it was the wrong number. Reports posted on her Twitter account several days after her disappearance and attributed to her husband Li Xin, who was in Beijing, suggest that He Fangmei may be under de facto house arrest in Huixian. Local officials reportedly said her two young children were “being taken care of”. In the late afternoon of October 14, 2020, Li Xin also became unreachable, according to those who tried to reach him on his cell phone. To date, there has been no confirmed information on the exact fate and well-being of He Fangmei and his immediate family.
On October 26, 2020, worried people phoned He Fangmei’s family and were told that they had no information about his whereabouts after his disappearance; the family has also not heard from Li Xin since he was brought back from Beijing to Huixian; and they received no official notification from the police regarding He Fangmei or Li Xin.
In November 2020, families affected by faulty vaccines went to local government offices in Huixian to inquire about He Fangmei’s situation but could not get any information. Around the same time, these families launched a social media and written campaign to pressure relevant authorities to reveal He Fangmei’s whereabouts. Some of these families were questioned by public security officers who warned them not to participate in the campaign.
Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the lack of information regarding the whereabouts and well-being, and the apparent enforced disappearance of He Fangmei, her husband and two young children, particularly in light of her pregnancy and medical conditions of his daughter. He believes that his and his family’s disappearance and the harassment they have faced before are retaliation for He Fangmei’s peaceful and legitimate work in promoting and defending human rights, including the right to health.