1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Hong Kong voids visa of controversial gene-editing scientist

February 21, 2023

Authorities say the visa has been revoked because of a prior conviction for practicing medicine without a license. He Jiankui's work in altering the embryos of twin girls previously caused controversy.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui reads a statement to the media at a hotel in Beijing
Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced his work visa just hours before it was revokedImage: GREG BAKER/AFP

Hong Kong canceled the work visa on Tuesday of a Chinese scientist who sparked an ethical controversy five years ago after creating the world's first genetically-edited babies.

The authorities in Hong Kong made the decision just hours after He Jiankui announced his research plans in the city. 

In 2018, He had shocked the world through his announcement of altering the embryos of twin girls to confer immunity to HIV.

Many in the scientific community criticized his work as unethical. He was convicted of practicing medicine without a license by a mainland Chinese court in the year thereafter and sentenced to spend three years in prison alongside a fine of 3 million yuan  ($445.000, €408.000). 

Ten months after his release, He announced that Hong Kong was going to grant him a visa and that he was in contact with universities, research institutes and companies in the financial hub. 

He said he was considering working in Hong Kong if there was an appropriate opportunity. He also said he was planning to research gene therapy for scarce hereditary diseases. 

"My scientific research will comply with the ethics codes and international consensus on scientific research,'' the scientist said at a short news conference.

Gene editing for crops

Initial granting of visa met with criticism 

This original granting of a visa to He Jiankui had raised criticism in the scientific community and had dampened Hong Kong's fresh immigration scheme aimed at attracting top talent from across the world. 

However, Hong Kong's government said later on Tuesday that it had nullified the visa of an individual who "made false statements" when applying. A criminal investigation into the case had been launched. 

"After the immigration department reviewed the application, it suspected that someone had made false statements to get the visa approval,'' the statement wrote. "The director of immigration has declared that the visa is invalid in accordance with the law.'

While He was not named in the statement, details of his case were mentioned. 

It added that applicants must declare whether they had a criminal record in future, a requirement that did not exist when He applied for the visa, officials admitted. 

los/wd (AFP, AP)