In the latest in our occasional series on Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience, Colm O’Gorman writes about a very brave Chinese mother.
Mao Hengfeng may just be one of the bravest people you’ve never heard of.
For more than 30 years this former factory worker and mother of three young children has stood up to the brutal Chinese government and its police force. Right now she’s at their mercy again, in a police detention centre.
Mao’s activism started in 1988 when she was working in a soap factory. She became pregnant with her third child, violating China’s family planning regulations. She was ordered by officials at the factory to have an abortion but she refused, determined to continue with her pregnancy and give birth to her baby.
She was taken by force to a nearby psychiatric hospital where she was injected with various drugs in an effort to abort the pregnancy. Despite this, Mao miraculously gave birth to her third daughter, Wu Qingxia, though the drugs she had been forced to take left Wu with many health problems.
When she returned to her job after giving birth, she was immediately dismissed for missing work even though this had been because she was detained in the hospital.
Since then Mao Hengfeng has dedicated herself to standing up for people like her, whose human rights are abused and violated by the Chinese state, particularly families at risk of forced eviction.
Millions of people have been forced from their homes in China to make way for private developers. Many have been beaten and tortured, even killed for resisting. Some are so desperate that more than 40 protestors have set themselves on fire to protest evictions in the last couple of years.
Mao was taken away by men believed to be plain clothes police officers on 30 September. The police have since told her family she is being held in Yangpu police detention centre in Shanghai.
Amnesty International believes that she was arrested because the Chinese authorities wanted to prevent her organising any protests during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party this month.
We believe Mao is in real danger because she has been tortured before. In 2010 she was sent to a ‘re-education through labour’ camp for taking part in a protest calling for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner.
After an international campaign led by Amnesty International members around the world, she was released early on medical parole. She had serious injuries, including loss of feeling along one side of her body, signs of bleeding in her brain and difficulties staying conscious.
As I write this, word has come to us from her family in China that she has been again sentenced to a ‘re-education through labour’ camp. She was charged with ‘disturbing social order’ and refused permission to see her husband.
This makes Mao’s case all the more urgent, but we know you can make a difference. International pressure forced China to allow her family to visit her during her first detention in a labour camp, and to release her when her physical condition worsened.
Please write immediately calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mao Hengfeng to His Excellency, the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, Mr Luo Linquan, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, 40 Ailesbury Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
Colm O’Gorman is Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.