Chinese rights activists say they have been warned off any form of public activism or protest on World AIDS Day, in a crackdown on civil society in the country that began around two years ago.
Henan-based AIDS activist Sun Ya, a long-time activist with the Beijing-based Aizhixing health rights group, said he would like to take part in public events on Friday in support of the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, but doesn't dare.
"They have urged us [not to do this]," Sun said. "On top of that, there is also the fact that they are monitoring our communications, listening in."
"There are controls on our activities now, including buying tickets for bus or train with a real-name system, which means they can send someone to follow you," he said.
"People are routinely getting detained, and all of the lawyers who used to stand up for us are being taken off [such cases] for a variety of reasons," Sun said.
Sun said his 21-year-old son, who lives with HIV, is discriminated against in employment, like many others with HIV/AIDS.
He said employers still discriminate against people with HIV, in spite of greater awareness of how the virus is transmitted.
"With this kind of discrimination, employers want to avoid extra hassle. They are worried that if they hire people [with HIV] and you get sick, they will have to pay your medical expenses," Sun said.
Many people with HIV/AIDS are given a handout of just 200 yuan a month to cover their living expenses, making it impossible to get by.
Little government interest
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who has long campaigned against discrimination on health grounds, said the government has little interest in standing up for people with HIV/AIDS.
"In the regions where there is a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, such as Henan and Anhui, but mostly Henan, in all the years of advocacy work since 2001, I have yet to hear of a single victorious lawsuit in the area of HIV/AIDS and government compensation," Hu said.
He said many people in China have contracted the virus through tainted blood-transfusions, spurred on by the practice of blood-selling in poverty-stricken rural areas.
He said people infected by such schemes should receive compensation, as they were infected by unsafe blood-handling practices out of their control, as well as psychological counseling.
HIV/AIDS advocacy work has been hampered in China by a wide-ranging clampdown on the activities of civil society and nongovernment groups, especially those receiving foreign funding.
"Rights organizations aren't allowed to get involved in the Henan AIDS epidemic, so it's very hard to get transparent information about the health status of those infected," Hu told RFA.
"People only really remember their existence on World AIDS Day, and the message from the [state-run] media is always about how the government is taking care of them," he said.
Blood-selling at fault
Official figures show that more than 654,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in China, while more than 201,000 people died of the disease in 2017.
Officials at Beijing's National Health and Family Planning Commission say that sexual transmission is the main source of infection in the country.
But 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.
Both Wan and Gao fled to the U.S. after official reprisals for their whistle blowing on the blood-selling scandal, and for their insistence that it continues in poorer regions of the country to this day.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.