Chinese Authorities Hold HIV Activist Ahead of World AIDS Day

china-zhengzhou-world-aids-day-nov30-2014.jpg Volunteers distribute flyers on AIDS prevention to passengers at the Zhengzhou Railway Station in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan province, Nov. 30, 2014.
Li An/Xinhua

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan on Monday clamped down on public activities by AIDS activists in the provincial capital Zhengzhou to mark World AIDS Day, holding a key participant under house arrest.

Wang Qiuyun, an activist based in Henan's Chibi city, said she had been unable to attend the event highlighting rampant discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

"I am at home under surveillance, because I had planned to go to this activity in Zhengzhou, but I can't now," Wang told RFA from her home.

"The Women Against AIDS Network had planned a news conference and was going to give interviews about medical discrimination."

"There was also an event planned by students from Zhengzhou University, including discussion forums and panels, but I can't go to any of them now," she said.

Wang, who is HIV-positive, said the authorities also confiscated her passport.

"They took it away when I tried to attend a conference in Geneva, and they haven't given it back to me," she said. "They have been keeping an eye on me since October; they have taken over my e-mail account."

Yuan Wenli, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Women Against AIDS Network non-government group, said she hoped around 100 people would attend the event.

"This was an educational event to try to combat discrimination," Yuan told RFA on Monday. "The students are giving speeches, and they invited me and Wang Qiuyuan to tell the story of people living with HIV."

Rights lawyer released

Henan authorities have meanwhile released a prominent rights lawyer who campaigned for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Chang Boyang, who was detained in May as one of the "Zhengzhou 10" for attending a memorial event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, was released on bail on Saturday after more than 100 days in criminal detention.

Chang, one of the founders of healthcare NGO Zhengzhou Yirenping, which has campaigned for the equal rights of people living with HIV to receive healthcare, had been held in the Zhengzhou No.3 Detention Center, his lawyer Feng Yanqiang told RFA.

"This bail means that he is still under criminal enforcement measures, so his status has changed from being formally arrested," Feng said. "This was entirely decided by the judiciary. There is no need for him to agree, once they have decided."

The release of political detainees "on bail" is sometimes used by China's state security police as a means of exerting continued control over their actions and movements, knowing that they can be redetained at any time.

But Feng said Chang now looks likely to avoid being tried for "running an illegal business."

"Chang has always maintained that he is innocent, and demands that the police drop the case against him," Feng said. "He wanted to walk free from the detention center with nothing on his record."

Feng said Chang had refused to sign a document acknowledging the conditions of his bail, however.

"He refused to sign a thing," he added.

Battling discrimination

Beijing-based AIDS activist Lu Jun described Chang as a prominent public interest lawyer who has battled discrimination on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS.

"He has taken on cases and appeals on behalf of large numbers of disadvantaged people, including appeals over discrimination against AIDS patients," Lu said.

He said that during the 100 days that Chang Boyang was detained, he was prevented from meeting with his own defense lawyer.

"They just found a pretext to arrest Chang Boyang because of the international attention his public interest work brought him," Lu added.

China had recorded a total of 497,000 HIV/AIDS infections by the end of October, resulting in 154,000 deaths, according to government figures released on Sunday.

Wang Guoqiang, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission said sexual transmission was the main source of infection, while mother-to-child, and drug and needle infection rates are low.

However, U.S.-based dissident doctors such as Wan Yanhai and Gao Yaojie say 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.

In April, the ruling Chinese Communist Party sent inspection teams to the central province of Henan to investigate the cause of a massive AIDS epidemic among poverty-stricken rural communities who took part in the blood-selling schemes of the 1990s.

Both Wan and Gao fled to the U.S. after official reprisals for their whistleblowing on the blood-selling scandal, and for their insistence that it continues in poorer regions of the country to this day.

Young people demonstrate to raise awareness of AIDS in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Nov. 30, 2014.
Young people demonstrate to raise awareness of AIDS in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Nov. 30, 2014.
(Photo courtesy of a netizen.)
Protestors in Chengdu

Last Friday, dozens of protesters converged on the downtown area in the southwestern city of Chengdu, carrying placards that read:"Against medical discrimination" and "Equal treatment."

Zhengzhou-based activist Cheng Shuaishuai told RFA on Saturday he had been swathed in bandages as part of the protest over unnecessary treatment and precautions taken by healthcare workers in China when treating people with HIV.

"The idea was that people should take the bandages off me to symbolize the equal treatment of people with HIV," he said.

"Everyone thinks that you have to take special measures to prevent HIV transmission and cross-infection, and that's why we did this installation."

"We want to wipe out discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS,"
said Cheng, who is HIV-positive.

"The main form of discrimination, I think, comes from the doctors treating HIV patients," he said. "They won't carry out surgery on them or even see them for consultations."

"This discrimination among doctors leads to wider discrimination in society as a whole," said Cheng, who in 2012 set up a nongovernmental group that offers free support to people living with HIV/AIDS.

"That's why we are calling on the medical profession first."

Earlier this year, Cheng won 87,000 yuan (U.S. $14,000) in compensation from a Zhengzhou court after he and a friend were refused permission to board a Spring Airlines flight in the northeastern city of Shenyang when staff discovered their HIV status.

The two, along with an HIV-negative traveling companion, were told that their tickets had been canceled, official media reported at the time.

One of the plaintiffs, Chen Jie, told RFA the three had never expected to win, but that the case had helped improve company policy.

"They have already amended the discriminatory rule, and people with HIV/AIDS are able to travel on their aircraft," Chen said. "I think that is very important, but I also hope that they will apologize."

"It is encouraging for people living with HIV/AIDS to know that they can use the law as a weapon to protect themselves when their rights are violated," he said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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