Beijing Police Detain Dozens of Activists Ahead of World AIDS Day

2013-11-29
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Students sign their names on an anti-AIDS banner during an AIDS day event at a school in Hanshan, central China's Anhui province, Nov. 30, 2012.
AFP

Authorities in the Chinese capital have detained dozens of AIDS activists who staged protests outside government buildings in the run-up to World AIDS Day on Sunday, activists said.

Police swooped on a protest in Beijing's main shopping district of Wangfujing, detaining at least 30 activists, many of whom are in the later stages of AIDS, a Henan protester surnamed Chen told RFA.

"We were in Wangfujing shouting about our misfortunes, and how we need someone to care for us, and everyone was very moved by our words," Chen said. "We called on [bystanders] not to discriminate against us."

"Then, four or five police cars came with a big bus, and a lot of police surrounded us, and dragged some of us away," she said.

She said some protesters were later released.

"They released the elderly and the infirm ones, the [AIDS] patients," Chen said in an interview on Thursday.

The detentions came after more than 200 activists gathered to sing songs in protest at widespread discrimination against people with HIV, as well as a failure to meet promises of medical care and social
subsidies made by Beijing but seldom implemented by cash-strapped local governments.

But the singing gradually gave way to crying and keening, as the activists knelt down in front of China's civil affairs ministry, before moving off to Wangfujing to continue their demonstration.

No response

An activist surnamed Huang said there had been no response to the protest from ministry officials.

"Some people were detained, because some people didn't want to get on the bus," Huang said. "There were two police to each person, and they dragged them only the bus."

"There were about 30 people [detained]," he said. "The police told them they would resolve their complaint as they were taking them away."

"It was very chaotic, and we saw it from a bit of a distance, and they even stopped pedestrians from walking past," Huang said.

A third protester surnamed Bi said the activists had converged on Beijing to spread their message.

"Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, but we still don't dare to tell people [that we are living with HIV]," she said. "We are afraid that other people will find out."

"So it's as if we are shut off from others," Bi said. "This disease has put so much pressure on us."

"We are afraid that if other people find out, they won't want anything to do with us, and that they'll hide whenever they see us," she added.

Tainted transfusions

Many activists have come to Beijing from some of the worst-hit rural areas in China, including Henan, Hebei and Shandong, where many were infected as a result of tainted transfusions and blood-sellings schemes.

"We are people living with HIV from Henan, and we need compensation from the government," Huang said. "We are victims...those were the slogans [we were shouting]."

"The police who came were wearing blue protective clothing," he added.

"Some of us managed to get away...to a place we thought would be safe, but we don't know if we will be detained if we go out again," Huang said.

Activists living with HIV have converged on China's capital ahead of World AIDS Day, forming a choir to fight social discrimination through music and staging a protest outside the health ministry.

Nearly 200 protesters gathered outside the health ministry on Monday and Tuesday to call for the payment of social assistance and medical benefits pledged by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

China's AIDS petitioners want local authorities to implement the provisions in the central government's "Document No. 26," which requires local governments to extend assistance to children infected with HIV and to AIDS orphans whose parents had already died of the disease.

Document No. 26 stipulates that local governments pay a basic living allowance of 600 yuan (about U.S. $100) per month to AIDS patients, with further subsidies for children and AIDS orphans.

Compensation issues

But many petitioners contacted by RFA said they were receiving subsidies of just 200 yuan (about U.S. $30) per month, and some said they had received nothing at all.

Some AIDS patients have tried unsuccessfully to sue the local authorities for failing to deliver promised treatment packages and adequate compensation after they were infected via tainted blood supplies in local hospitals and clinics.

Activists estimate that at least 100,000 people in Henan have been infected with HIV during the blood-selling schemes run by local governments, which bought blood donations from impoverished rural residents, but also took a cut of the proceeds.

Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or any other infections, extracted the valuable plasma and then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it.

Around 40,000 of them have now died of AIDS, leaving around 60,000 still living with HIV.

Retired gynecologist and former medical professor Gao Yaojie, currently living in the United States, says the majority of new HIV infections come from a network of thousands of blood-selling and transfusion clinics which are still operating in poorer regions of the country.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.