Investigative Report

Families of Victims

Authorities in China have repeatedly detained parents who travel to petition the central government on behalf of children affected by tainted vaccine scandals in a bid to silence them, including ahead of a recent international summit in Zhejiang province, sources said.

A scandal exposed in Shandong province earlier this year—in which a female medical school graduate was found to have sold vaccines to 24 provinces and cities over five years without approval—is the latest incident to have shaken the confidence of parents in China.

Many children have died or developed serious disabilities from the vaccines, but years later the matters typically remain unresolved with no one brought to justice for their role in the scandals. Parents have expressed concerns over safety and many now refuse to inoculate their children.

Ahead of the Sept. 4-5 2016 Group of Twenty (G20) Summit of governments and central bank governors from the world’s 20 leading economies in Zhejiang’s Hangzhou city, parents of vaccine victims from across China attempted to hold a seminar drawing attention to the dangers of tainted serum, but were intercepted by police and returned to their hometowns or detained.

Zeng Jiang, a parent of a vaccine victim who traveled to Hangzhou and was detained, told RFA’s Cantonese Service that of the many petitioners who tried to go, only a handful actually made it through a police dragnet aimed at preventing them from leaving their homet.

“There were many people in the beginning but not all of them could make the trip in the end,” he said.

“Everyone had their own issue. I am sure you know about this. They were all … you know … ” he added, suggesting the other parents had been confronted by authorities before traveling to Hangzhou.

Zeng told RFA that the police targeted him soon after arriving in the city.

“I was with another parent in Guangde county in Anhui [province’s Xuancheng city], close to Hangzhou,” he said.

“The police found us. They then asked our hometown police to come take us back.”

Criminal detention

Lin Jincang of Henan province—another victim’s father who traveled to Hangzhou with his wife and daughter—said his family was refused lodging at a hotel because of his history petitioning the government and left the city a day later. He bought train tickets to Shanghai for his wife to seek medical treatment for their daughter and traveled to Xuancheng to meet with a friend who is also the parent of a child who was affected by a tainted vaccine.

“When the hometown police of a friend I met with at the hospital came to get him, they discovered me,” he said.

“They realized that I have a petition record so they took me to the Guangde county public security bureau, which notified my hometown police to bring me back.”

Lin said police from his hometown of Nanyang took him into custody on Aug. 28 and brought him back to Henan, where they placed him in administrative detention for 10 days, followed by criminal detention for another seven days.

On Sept. 20, members of the local health department, the Correspondence and Visitation Department, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention presented him with a statement and said that if he did not sign it he would be arrested and sentenced to three years in prison.

“Neither my lawyer nor my family members were present at the time,” he said.

“They forced me to sign the agreement … [which stated] that our child’s problem had been resolved, the entire matter had come to an end, and I would not petition any more.”

A local official, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that authorities promised to pay Lin 900,000 yuan (U.S. $129,800) to cover fees for his daughter’s medical care, in part because specialists in Beijing and Shanghai had confirmed her health issues were caused by a tainted tuberculosis vaccine she received in March 2010 when she was two months old.

Doctors have said Lin’s daughter will require treatment for the rest of her life for complications resulting from a serious infection she developed after the vaccination and might not live beyond the age of 15.

The anonymous source said that the money was offered to Lin in a lump sum for medical fees and reparations, and together with an earlier payment of around 100,000 yuan (U.S. $14,500) came to a total of about one million yuan (U.S. $144,200).

Lin—who has yet to receive the payment—was forbidden from disclosing the amount publicly, the source said, adding that the agreement was part of a bid by authorities to deal with victims’ families on an individual basis, rather than coming to a collective settlement.

The Nanyang Municipal Government and the Nanyang Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention both declined RFA’s requests for interviews concerning Lin’s case.

Repeated arrests

Hua Xiuzhen, the Shanghai-based mother of a young woman who has suffered health problems since receiving an inoculation two years ago, told RFA that she too had been arrested after traveling to Hangzhou on Aug. 27, but said police have repeatedly targeted her since she began petitioning the government.

“My daughter was worried sick, so she went to Hangzhou to look for me, but she was also arrested,” Hua said.

“They have arrested me a few times. For instance, they’ve arrested me for attending meetings and such. If we go to Beijing [to petition the central government], they confiscate the things in our bags, they deport us back home and then detain us.”

Other parents of tainted vaccine victims—including more than 300 who have formed various rights defense groups—said they had endured similar treatment after seeking justice from the authorities for the suffering of their children, according to a survey conducted by RFA.

In most cases, they reported that their initial appeals had been ignored and that their subsequent petitions to the central government were repeatedly met with detention and “deportation” to their hometowns by local authorities.

Many of the families have donated funds for a collective legal defense, but few lawyers have been willing to take on their cases because of pressure they face from the government.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.