AIDS Activist Stopped From Visiting U.S.

The Associated Press
Sunday, February 4, 2007; 11:30 PM

BEIJING -- A retired Chinese doctor who helped expose blood-buying schemes that infected thousands with HIV has been put under house arrest to stop her from traveling to Washington to be honored by a charity backed by Sen. Hillary Clinton, a friend said Monday.

Gao Yaojie is among China's most prominent and tenacious AIDS activists. She has received numerous awards for her efforts a decade ago to alert people in her home province of Henan in eastern China to an AIDS epidemic that was being spread by tainted blood transfusions. Operators often used dirty needles, and people selling plasma _ the liquid in blood _ received replenishment from a pooled blood supply.

Gao, who is in her 80s, was warned by Henan authorities not to attend the Vital Voices Global Partnership awards ceremony next month but she refused to comply, said Hu Jia, a Beijing-based AIDS activist and friend of Gao's.

Zhengzhou city authorities put her under house arrest Thursday ahead of a planned trip to Beijing Sunday to apply for a U.S. visa, Hu said.

Friends and family who tried to see Gao at home were being blocked or interrogated before being allowed to visit, he said. Her daughter was under constant police surveillance, he said.

Gao was refused a passport in 2001 to go to Washington to accept an award from a U.N. group.

A man who answered the phone at the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau refused to answer questions about Gao. Like many Chinese officials, he refused to give his name and referred calls to the provincial government.

A duty officer with the Henan government who would give only his surname, Wu, said he was unclear about the case.

Gao's and her daughter's phone numbers both rang unanswered Monday.

Hu said Gao was to be honored for her work promoting women's legal rights in China at a Vital Voices annual awards dinner in Washington on March 14. Clinton, a New York Democrat, is one of the group's honorary chairwomen. Vital Voices could not be immediately reached for comment.

In the late 1990s, when the government was tightlipped about its AIDS problem, Gao spoke openly to the press and distributed brochures about the spread of AIDS among poor farmers because of the blood-buying industry. Health officials then accused her of helping "anti-China forces."

Chinese leaders have since confronted the disease more openly, promising anonymous testing and free treatment for the poor. The government has banned blood sales and discrimination against people with the virus.

But AIDS workers still face frequent harassment by local authorities who fear their activism will reflect badly on them.

Gao has also distributed medicine, cared for AIDS orphans, written a book about China's AIDS epidemic and hosted AIDS sufferers in her modest apartment. Funding comes from her own earnings and occasional donations.


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