HONG KONG—In a single year, Chinese AIDS activist Hu Jia was abducted by Chinese security police, survived a 30-day hunger strike, and spent more than 200 days under house arrest.
Hu, 34, also suffers from hepatitis-related ailments.
It would be hard to say that he’s having fun. But Hu has a wry sense of humor uncommon among dissidents. His eyes twinkle.
“Having so many policemen follow me around makes me feel really important,” Hu says with a smile.
His activism on AIDS issues may be only one reason for the police surveillance. He’s also been strongly supporting other dissidents, acting as an intermediary between them and the media.
When the police jail dissidents, he visits their relatives to show his support. Hu is close to human rights lawyers who use China’s own laws to challenge local officials and the police.
“We must use the law as a weapon,” he says.
We must use the law as a weapon.
Hu’s house arrest appears to be linked to his support for a well-known blind activist and self-made lawyer, Chen Guangcheng.
Chen was given a jail sentence of four years and three months in August, 2006. The sentence was upheld in January 2007.
Several police officers were stationed at all times outside Hu Jia’s apartment on the outskirts of Beijing. They worked in shifts, 24 hours a day.
What seemed to bother Hu most about the surveillance was that the police followed his wife, Zeng Jinyan, wherever she went.
When she went to work, or even on a shopping trip, police officers walked behind her, sometimes blocking her way. When she drove off in her car, one or two police cars trailed her.
At one point, Zeng Jinyan held up a sign in front of one of the police cars. It said, “Shame on you for bullying a woman!”
She also sometimes wore a T-shirt with similar words on the back of the shirt.
But without explanation, the government lifted police surveillance in February and allowed Hu to make a trip to Hong Kong. The police watch had lasted 214 days.
Hu believes that he was allowed to go to Hong Kong for several reasons. First, he was becoming too much of a story. Seven or eight journalists visited him while he was under house arrest.
The government had decreed that foreign journalists could interview whomever they wanted in the period leading up the Olympics next year. The journalists took advantage of this to visit Hu and his wife.
The Chinese state security police lifted surveillance of Hu and his wife on Feb. 16, and on the same day ended a travel ban against China’s best-known Chinese AIDS activist, Gao Yaojie.
After that ban was lifted, Dr. Gao traveled to the United States to receive a human rights award.
Hu says that these actions had to be the result of decisions made at the highest levels of the Chinese government.
As he sees it, the Chinese government is split over the AIDS issue. At the very top, he says, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao want to give prominence to the issue and allow more information to circulate.
But, he says, Li Changchun, a top Politburo member who is in charge of propaganda, wants to play down the issue.
Li was acting governor and then governor of Henan province in the early 1990s when a blood plasma donor business began to trigger an HIV/AIDS epidemic in the province.
Li has the support of Luo Gan, another leading figure who favors keeping AIDS activists under strict control, according to Hu Jia. Luo Gan is the Politburo Standing Committee member who oversees the police and intelligence operations.
These two Politburo heavies in turn appear to be allied with local officials, such as those in Henan who have tried to cover up the HIV/AIDS-blood plasma connection.
Dr. Gao found that many AIDS victims had donated blood plasma at unsanitary collection centers in Henan, for about U.S. $5.00 per donation. According to Dr. Gao, a number of other provinces have blood plasma businesses that have created equally severe AIDS problems.
While avoiding the plasma issue, China’s state-run media tend to focus on the transmission of HIV infections through sex or through intravenous drug use, according to Hu.
Despite the continuing harassment and surveillance of a number of AIDS activists, Hu Jia returned to China on March 31.
He expects more encounters with the police.
“I’m happy to be doing something meaningful,” says Hu. “That’s why I can keep a sense of humor.”
Reporting by RFA Executive Editor Dan Southerland. Edited for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.