Tuesday, May 22, 2007

China: Activist Couple Accused of Endangering State Security

Just months after 79-year-old AIDS activist Dr. Gao Yaoji was detained by Chinese officials and temporarily prohibited from traveling to the US to accept an award, the young Chinese AIDS activists Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan were arrested on Friday, May 18.

Charged with "harming state security" for their work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS, Zeng Jinyan began a blog to document their experiences with the police. Her accounts have captured the world's attention, not least on other blogs.

Below are links to blogs that have followed Hu and Zeng's experiences, along with Human Rights Watch's May 21st press release.

Human Rights In China Blog; My Blue Notes; Talk-Share-Learn

House Arrest, Travel Ban Arbitrarily Imposed on Couple Without Formal Charges

(New York, May 21, 2007) – The Chinese government should immediately lift the house arrest and travel restrictions imposed on Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, a prominent husband-and-wife team of human rights activists arrested on Friday, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hu and Zeng, two of China’s most well-known campaigners for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, were placed under house arrest and banned from leaving the country on May 18. During a four-hour interrogation at a Beijing police station, police told Hu that the couple was “suspected of harming state security.”

“The Chinese government ought to be grateful to Hu and Zeng for educating and assisting people living with HIV/AIDS, but instead it is punishing them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Their work isn’t a threat to national security, but the government’s attempt to stifle AIDS activists is a threat to public health.”

Minutes before the couple was to board a flight for a two-month trip to Europe, Hu and Zeng were detained by eight police officers – two of whom filmed the proceedings. The police at no point provided any official documents showing the basis for Hu and Zeng’s house arrest and travel ban.

Hu, a human rights activist who has monitored and reported on arrests and harassment of high-profile individuals, spent 214 days under house arrest between August 2006 and March 2007. The couple made a documentary film about their house arrest, “Prisoners of Freedom City,” which records their surveillance by state security and police over that seven-month period.

Last week, Time magazine named Zeng as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. Her

blog documents the routine surveillance and harassment by security forces that China’s activists and dissidents must endure. “I had never expected that the police would restrict me as well as Hu Jia,” Zeng wrote on her blog. “I am already three months pregnant. What is to be feared from me and my child?” She expressed her astonishment that the authorities would subject both her and her husband to house arrest for legally pursuing their rights of free expression and association.

In April, Hu released a transcript of a conversation he had with a prominent human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, in which Gao claimed that he had been forced to “confess” under torture. Gao received a suspended sentence in December for a charge of “subversion” in a trial that fell short of international fair-trial standards.

The house arrest order confines Hu and Zeng to their home in Beijing and severely limits their freedom of movement and association, as well as their ability to contact friends and relatives. “China’s systematic use of house arrest and state security charges against human rights defenders seriously undermines the government’s claims that it respects the rights of its citizens,” said Adams. “The Chinese government should immediately end the practice of house arrest and the use of dubious, politically motivated charges against activists.”

House arrest is just one of the many administrative measures that Chinese authorities can deploy against dissidents and human rights activists without having to formally charge and prosecute them under Chinese law. The Chinese government appears to be increasing its use of house arrest on grounds of loosely defined state security crimes as a means of quelling public expressions of dissent in the run-up to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Hu stated earlier this year that he was planning to “push the space for freedoms, especially freedom of expression,” in the period leading up to the Beijing Olympics in August 2008. But with a spate of arrests of activists, lawyers and journalists in the past two years, China is moving in the opposite direction. Despite its recent, more forceful response to the AIDS epidemic, the authorities have also repeatedly harassed AIDS activists, most recently detaining 79-year-old Dr. Gao Yaojie in February.

“With the Olympics on the horizon, Beijing should know that its actions are being closely watched by the rest of the world,” Adams said. “Is the house arrest of two internationally known activists really the image that China wants to project to the world?”

More information about Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan:

TIME: 100 Most influential people

Enemy of the State: Guardian Unlimited

China: Activist Couple Accused of Endangering State Security: Reuters

2 Activists Are Under House Arrest and Barred From Leaving China: New York Times

More information about AIDS activists in China
China: House Arrests Stifle HIV/AIDS Petitions
Restrictions on AIDS Activists in China
Hold Beijing to Account for its AIDS Coverup
Chinese AIDS Activist Honored Despite Ongoing Detention
By Choking Information, China Worsens AIDS Crisis

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Curb HIV infection rates in Texas prisons

May 10, 2007 in the Statesman

"The Bible people come to the prisons once a month. Let the condom people come in once a month. The purpose is the same — to save lives." Last month, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) spoke these words to the House Committee on Corrections in support of his bill permitting community organizations to distribute condoms in Texas prisons.

In the United States, more than two-thirds of all new HIV infections occur among minorities. And because of the increasing imprisonment of drug users, and the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, the number of people with HIV or AIDS behind bars in the U.S. is more than three times higher than in the general population. Although most inmates acquire the infection outside of prison, some transmission occurs inside.

Coleman is concerned about the health of inmates, but he explained to the committee that much of the impetus for this bill arises out of the high rates of HIV infection among Latina and African American women. In Texas, some 12 percent of the population is African American. Yet among those living with HIV about 38 percent are African American. African American and Hispanic women combined represent 78 percent of women living with HIV in Texas. Coleman told the committee that making condoms available might lower the HIV transmission rate in prison and, in turn, lower the infection rate in the community as the inmates return home.

Coleman is right about the alarming rates of HIV infection in minority communities. And he's right that condom distribution will decrease transmission in prisons. Distributing condoms is a low-cost, practical public health measure that needs to be more widely implemented in U.S. prisons and jails. New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles are some of the cities already distributing condoms in their jails, and the distribution of condoms to inmates has been endorsed by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Public Health Association.

However, sexual transmission is not the only way HIV is spread in prisons. Injection drug use and unsafe tattoos contribute to transmission, and strictly supervised programs providing prisoners with methadone, bleach, and clean needles have proven both effective, and safe, in such countries as Switzerland, Spain and Germany.

But it's important to note that minority women are not primarily at risk because of HIV transmission in prisons. Unemployment, housing discrimination, the lack of access to quality prevention and medical services, and the on-going stigma which surrounds HIV all fuel the epidemic.

And that's why Coleman's second bill on HIV in prisons is ineffective, and ultimately counterproductive. The bill would mandate HIV testing of all inmates and segregate those found to be HIV positive. These policies are not necessary, nor do they respect the civil rights of inmates. Informed consent is a cornerstone of legal and ethical medical testing requirements, and inmates, while losing certain rights to liberty, do not leave all of their rights at the jailhouse door.

Voluntary HIV counseling and testing can increase knowledge and impact HIV-related behaviors more than mandatory programs. The segregation of inmates with HIV perpetuates stigma, isolation and discrimination, undermining efforts to address the epidemic both in prison and out.

Despite the U.S. government's pledge in 2001 to cut the number of new HIV infections in half by 2005, more than forty thousand people in the U.S. continue to become infected with HIV each year. Much of what has stopped us from fulfilling that pledge is a willingness to cling to ideology rather than recognize reality. Rather than just inviting "condom people" into its prisons, Texas needs to implement public health programs that expand HIV information and services both inside and outside prisons, and respect the rights and the dignity of everyone living with HIV.

Joe Amon and Megan McLemore, Human Rights Watch

Monday, May 14, 2007

Woman AIDS activist nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

This week Patricia Perez became the first HIV-positive woman to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. An activist from Argentina, she is the regional representative of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America (ICW Latina). Her nomination was announced in Mexico City.

In the last three years, the prevalence of HIV among Latin American women has risen considerably. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), three years ago there were seven or eight men with HIV/AIDS in Latin America for every woman with the virus. But today the ratio is three to one.

Since she was diagnosed in 1986, Patricia Perez has been a powerful voice in Latin America, an advocate for the rights of women living with HIV/AIDS in her region.

More about Patricia Perez:

ICW Latina

IPS: HIV-Positive Women Activists in Latin America Stand Tall

HIV Infection Rates Among Women in Latin America and the Caribbean Continue to Increase

Interview with Patricia PĂ©rez, Candidata al Premio Nobel de la Paz (Spanish)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Debate: Global Public Health

The Challenge of Global Health by Laurie Garrett, Foriegn Affairs, January/February 2007
Thanks to a recent extraordinary rise in public and private giving, today more money is being directed toward the world's poor and sick than ever before. But unless these efforts start tackling public health in general instead of narrow, disease-specific problems -- and unless the brain drain from the developing world can be stopped -- poor countries could be pushed even further into trouble, in yet another tale of well-intended foreign meddling gone awry...

Nancy Aossey, International Medical Corps
To the Editor:
As head of an organization that has struggled for over two decades with the challenges Laurie Garrett raises ("The Challenge of Global Health," January/ February 2007), I know that making a lasting impact on the health of the world's poor is fraught with difficulties. No issue is more pressing than the work-force crisis in local health sectors, because it ultimately erodes the very same local structures that are essential for sustainable progress....

Joe Amon, HIV/AIDS Program, Human Rights Watch
To the Editor:
Laurie Garrett makes it painfully clear how shortsighted and dysfunctional our response to the global health crisis has been to date.
Garrett correctly points out that it will take more than money to make an impact on global public health, and she correctly states that unless we start tackling public health in general instead of narrow, disease-specific problems, we may end up worse off. But while her diagnosis is on target, her prescription misses the mark, because she misses the most basic factors underlying not only successful health infrastructures but also successful prevention programs and a successful health industry: good governance and a respect for human rights...

Susan L. Erikson, Global Health Affairs, University of Denver
To the Editor:
I have been following with great interest Foreign Affairs' discussion about Laurie Garrett's article on global health. But I am struck by the irony that a distinguished journal of foreign relations has completely missed such an important point: today's global health lacuna is political. We simply do not have people who are knowledgeable and experienced enough in foreign policy engaging in the politics of global health...