Monday, November 13, 2006

New York Times: Needles, AIDS, China

To the Editor:

In "China's Muslims Awake to Nexus of Needles and AIDS", Howard French shows one bright spot in China's war against the AIDS epidemic: in Xinjiang, authorities are beginning to offer methadone to drug users.

However, the article does not show an uglier piece of the picture. Every year, authorities around the country also forcibly detain thousands of drug users in prisons, "treatment centers" in name only. As a researcher at Human Rights Watch, I visited one such facility and interviewed detainees from others. Under Chinese law, police may sentence individuals to three to six months --sometimes, longer-- in these prisons, without trial. Detainees are kept in unclean, overcrowded cells. They get no counseling. They are compelled to take part in forced, unpaid labor, working long hours on farms or in sweatshops that profit the prisons. Chinese sex workers also face similar detention.

As interviewees told me, all this punitive approach accomplishes is to marginalize those at high risk of HIV infection and drive them underground, away from authorities and any program that could teach them about HIV and how to prevent its spread. China should abolish these fake "treatment centers" and replace them with real ones.

Sara Davis
Executive Director
Asia Catalyst

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