He Jiankui, the Chinese researcher who used CRISPR to edit the CCR5 genes in twin embryos, was condemned by the scientific community for the unethical nature of his work, as well as for what seems to be shoddy science. But when reports emerged at the beginning of December that He had been placed under house arrest for what he had done, the Southern University of Science and Technology, where he was a researcher, denied it.
Now, however, those reports may have been proven true. Last week, the New York Times spotted He on the balcony of an apartment in a small university guesthouse in Shenzhen, and notes he was being kept under guard by several unidentified men. This was the first sighting of He since the conference where he revealed his experiments, the Times says, adding that the guesthouse where he's being kept is a hotel run by the Southern University of Science and Technology for visiting teachers.
"Dr. He was seen pacing up and down the balcony of his guesthouse, gesticulating in the air. At other moments, he could be seen talking to a woman who appeared to be his wife, who was carrying a baby swaddled in a white cloth. Two balconies attached to his apartment were fenced off by metal wiring," the Times reports. "That evening, four unidentified men in plainclothes stood guard outside Dr. He's apartment. One said, 'How did you know that Professor He is here?' It was unclear whether the guards were affiliated with the police, the university or another organization."
The article further notes that a dozen guards who declined to identify themselves were stationed on the floor of He's apartment and were blocking the hallway. There were also security guards posted in the hallway leading to his former offices at the university's biology department.
He is apparently being allowed to make phone calls and send emails. Chen Peng, who cofounded the gene testing company Vienomics with He, told the Times that he spoke to He and that the scientist is safe, though his exact state is unknown.