China Detains Henan AIDS Mother for Complaint

2006-07-21
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Sept. 6, 2004: A woman walks in front of an illuminated poster calling on people to prevent the AIDS disease in Shanghai. Photo: AFP/Liu Jin.

HONG KONG—A woman from the southern Chinese province of Henan who was infected with the HIV virus during a blood transfusion in childbirth, and whose children have also been infected, has made a defiant stand just before being detained on suspicion of “assembling crowds to attack state organs.”

Speaking on her mobile phone within the police station in her home county of Ningling, postal worker Li Xige said she had refused to write out documents demanded by police.

“I am in the Ningling county police station,” Li told RFA’s Mandarin service.

'I won't write it'

“More than 20 officials came and grabbed us and took us away this morning. There were the top officials from every village. Also the county health committee chairman and the deputy county police chief. They brought us all back here.”

“The police want me to write a document detailing the content of my complaint to the Ministry of Health in Beijing. I won’t write it, and they say they’re going to put me in jail if I don’t. I won’t write it. They are not letting me go,” she told reporter Shi Shan.

Beijing-based AIDS activist Hu Jia said Li and a group of other women were detained Thursday after traveling to the capital in hope of presenting an official complaint and request for compensation to the Ministry of Health there.

“As they were on their way to the Ministry of Health, a couple of buses arrived full of officials from Ningling county, who took the women back home with them,” Hu said.

The police want me to write a document detailing the content of my complaint to the Ministry of Health in Beijing. I won’t write it, and they say they’re going to put me in jail if I don’t. I won’t write it. They are not letting me go.

A Ningling county official said he had heard that Li got brought home from Beijing, but he declined to give further details.

“I think she got home a short while ago, but now the government doesn’t really know exactly where she is,” he said.

Hu said Li, who lost a daughter to AIDS in 2004, was an experienced activist in her own right.

“Li Xige has had a lot of experience setting up a self-help organization called Kanglejia for those infected with HIV/AIDS. This has lessened the burden on those women tremendously, as well as the emotional burden on their families,” he said.

Hu said Li had discovered more than 40 women who had become infected in local hospitals via blood transfusion, together with 10 of their children and 14 other family members who had become infected as a result.

Of this group, around 20 people had already died of AIDS, including her nine-year-old daughter.

I don’t know anything about [local women being infected via blood transfusions at the local hospital]. Maybe you should call back tomorrow because I don’t know.

“The doctors at the hospital at that time were recommending blood transfusions to people undergoing surgery, especially women undergoing caesarian sections,” Hu said.

“The officials in charge of the blood department at the time weren’t really doing their jobs properly, and the blood they had collected from donors hadn’t undergone testing to check for the HIV/AIDS virus.”

A Ningling county health department official, when asked about those infected by transfusion at the local hospital, said: “I don’t know anything about [local women being infected via blood transfusions at the local hospital]. Maybe you should call back tomorrow because I don’t know.”

Hu said this was the fifth time Li and the other women had been to petition in Beijing, but to no avail.

“It should be quite clear-cut to make a complaint like this using legal channels. But the government has a policy now, which is to refuse to set up appeals on behalf of HIV/AIDS cases across the board, whether it be via transfusion or other infection methods. So ordinary people really have no redress at all in AIDS cases. Even an administrative route would be fine if it ended in some compensation,” he said.

Another county official said the local authority had tried to help the women and their families, however.

“The government has already extended some assistance to them, according to official policy. For example, a daily living subsidy,” he said. “There is help for them.”

But Li said she had turned down the offer of subsidy from the local government, saying that she believed she should be awarded a more reasonable level of compensation from local government.

Possible jail term

“I’m not accepting this. This is a human life we are talking about; a life that has been lost. Those government officials are not taking responsibility, they are not serving the people, and they are not doing anything to alleviate the problems of their citizens,” she told RFA.

“They haven’t pursued the head of the health department at the time...or the head of obstetrics and gynecology, nor the head of the pathology lab. Instead they’re putting us, victims who got the virus through transfusions, into prison. Fine, well I want everyone to know that I intend to stay right here [in the public security bureau].”

The crime of “assembling crowds to attack state organs” carries a sentence of between five and 10 years in prison for ringleaders, according to the penal code.

Li did not know she was infected with HIV when having her first baby 11 years ago. The child, a girl, died in 2004. A second child has also been infected.

An estimated 650,000 people in China had the HIV virus at the end of 2005, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations agency spearheading the fight against the disease.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Shi Shan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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