Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chinese Release Detained AIDS Activist

On November 24th, Dr. Wan Yanhai, an advocate for AIDS patients in China and founder of the AIZHIXING Institute, was taken in for questioning by the Beijing police and detained for 48 hours. His detention forced the cancellation of a planned workshop, “Blood, Safety, AIDS, and Legal Human Rights”, which planned to focus on the rights of people infected with HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions. After Dr. Wan cancelled the workshop, he was released.

Dr. Wan has been detained before. In 2002, he was in police custody for four weeks after posting information on the internet about unsafe blood exchanges that were contributing to the rising incidence of AIDS in the province of Henan. He was charged with “illegally leaking state secrets.” Upon his release, Dr. Yanhai declared, “If this incident helps attract more concern and support for victims of AIDS and their families and children here in China, then it can be considered an opportunity we should grasp.''

The detention of Dr. Wan by the Chinese authorities on the eve of World AIDS Day emphasizes the restrictions on the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in China. A press release by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CRD) states that the Beijing police have been working to block villagers living with HIV/AIDS from entering the city—whether to visit or to express grievances to the government—in part as preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

UNAIDS reported in its 2006 annual report that the epidemic in China has reached more than 650,000 individuals. In contrast to most regions, the epidemic began in rural areas and spread to the cities, perhaps explaining why awareness has remained low and stigma has soared. Nearly half of the people living with HIV in China are believed to be infected from injecting-drug use. In some provinces such as Henan, one percent of pregnant women are found to be HIV-positive. UNAIDS also cites blood and plasma donations as a contributing factor to the epidemic, the issue that Dr. Wan has focused on. HIV-positive persons find little protection or help—the UNAIDS report estimates that “almost one in three (30%) health professionals in Yunnan Province…said they would not treat an HIV-positive person.”

Dr. Wan’s work continues to drawn attention to not only the discrimination facing people living with HIV/AIDS in China, but also the denial of the civil and political rights of those fighting on their behalf. Learn more about his work:

Human Rights Watch talks with Dr. Wan (7/2006)

Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders press release (11/27/06)

“China Frees AIDS Activist After Month of Outcry” (9/21/02)

“China Now Set To Make Copies of AIDS Drugs” (9/7/02)

“China's Top AIDS Activist Missing; Arrest Is Suspected” (8/29/02)

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