HONG KONG—A group of high-school students from the northwestern, mainly Muslim Uyghur region of Xinjiang is still fighting their exclusion from school because they are infected with the Hepatitis B virus.
Authorities in the regional capital of Urumqi announced Thursday that seven ethnic minority Uyghur families who sued the local government over the expulsions had withdrawn their lawsuit.
But a hepatitis non-government group has said they were coerced into doing so by local officials, police and employers.
“Some people in the local government were visiting the homes of these students for ‘chats’ with their parents to put pressure on them to back down,” Lu Jun, head of the rights office at Hepatitis Forum, told RFA’s Mandarin service.
“Any who refused were taken down to the police station to be threatened and terrorized into signing the form withdrawing the case right there on the spot, with their thumbprint and everything. So they were forced into it.”
Some people in the local government were visiting the homes of these students for 'chats' with their parents to put pressure on them to back down.
Lu said pressure was also brought to bear on the students’ parents via employers and through their local village committees. “This had the effect of making them believe that their job was on the line,” he said.
Lu said the families’ telephone lines were being monitored and some of them were under 24 hour surveillance. The parents of the children had had to rely on friends to get the news about their circumstances to the outside world.
Calls to one of the families went unanswered.
The case began back at the beginning of the academic year in September, when 19 high school students who were either carriers or infected with Hepatitis B in the regional capital of Urumqi were forced to leave school by the municipal education authorities.
This was in contravention of national laws which forbid discrimination against carriers of the Hepatitis B virus, which is only spread through sexual contact, mother-to-baby, or through contaminated blood.
On Sept. 29 seven of the affected parents filed a lawsuit against the education bureau of the Urumqi municipal government at the (Tengritagh) Tianshan district court in the city.
The hearing was originally scheduled to take place on Nov. 9, but the date was repeatedly postponed by the court, before it announced Thursday that the case had been withdrawn by all the parents who had filed it.
With 210,000 members nationwide, the Hepatitis Forum is one of the biggest groups in China dedicated to fighting all forms of discrimination against Hepatitis B carriers, and it had been following the case of the Urumqi students very carefully.
A non-government group in Xinjiang, Snow Lotus, was shut down after it wrote open letters on behalf of the expelled students.
The Prevention of Infectious Diseases Law of the People’s Republic of China states that it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of their infection with an illness or virus.
Lu said local officials were keen to cover up their own mistakes.
“It’s very clear from this incident that the attitude of the local government is out of line with central government policy on this matter. They know they are in the wrong. They want to sweep this incident under the rug so that central government doesn’t find out what’s been going on,” he told reporter Shen Hua.
“So you have a situation in which the case doesn’t even get to the first hearing because the plaintiffs have withdrawn their case. They think that will minimize the impact of this affair.”
Calls to one of the legal representatives of the families went unanswered. But another Xinjiang lawyer, Sun Desheng, said the right of Chinese citizens to sue the authorities was protected in law.
“According to Chinese law, citizens have a right to sue the government. That right should be protected by law,” Sun told reporter Shen Hua.
Article 2 of the Administrative Procedure Law of the PRC states: “In the event that citizens are of the opinion that the actions of administrative organs and their staff have harmed their rights and opinions, they have the right to bring a lawsuit in a People’s Court under this law.”
Hepatitis B affects more than 120 million Chinese and is considered a major threat to public health, according to China’s health ministry.
In remarks quoted in the official English-language China Daily newspaper, health ministry spokesman Mao Qun’an blasted the decision to ban the pupils.
“This is prejudice,” Mao was quoted as saying. “All these students can go to school unless they are sick enough to be hospitalized.”
Authorities in Beijing have set up two specialized clinics for the treatment of teenagers with Hepatitis B, who are at the right age to begin antiviral treatments, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Shen Hua, and in Uyghur by Mehriban. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.