China bars AIDS doctor from U.S. for award: activist

Monday, February 5, 2007; 1:14 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has blocked an octogenarian doctor instrumental in exposing China's HIV/AIDS crisis from collecting an award from a U.S.-based advocacy group, a fellow AIDS activist said on Monday.

Police barred Gao Yaojie from leaving her home in the central province of Henan, forcing her to miss her Sunday flight to Beijing where she was traveling to apply for her U.S. visa.

"This completely blocks her human rights and freedom," Hu Jia, an AIDS campaigner who lives under house arrest in Beijing, told Reuters by telephone.

"Henan officials went to her house on February 1 to tell her they did not want her to go to the United States, but she did not agree to their proposal," he said, adding that since then she had been effectively under house arrest.

Calls to Gao's family went unanswered and Hu said her phone lines were being blocked. The U.S. embassy in Beijing had no immediate comment.

Gao, a retired physician, was among the first to expose Henan's blood scandal in which millions sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run health clinics, making the province the epicenter of China's AIDS problem.

She wrote and distributed material warning people of the risks of blood-selling, making her a target of local authorities fearful of the social stigma and political sensitivity surrounding AIDS.

Gao had been invited to the Vital Voices annual awards in Washington in March where she was to be honored for her work, according to an invitation letter from the group, supported by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, forwarded by Hu.

In 2001, Gao was barred from leaving the country to collect the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. Two years later, authorities prevented her from going abroad to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

Hu said local authorities were stopping anyone but Gao's children from entering her home in the Henan capital of Zhengzhou.

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