Group Hopes to Honor China AIDS Activist

By ALEXA OLESEN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 6, 2007; 12:32 PM

BEIJING -- A U.S. women's advocacy group said Tuesday it hopes that an apparent travel ban against a prominent Chinese AIDS activist can be lifted so she can be honored at a ceremony in Washington next month.

Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired doctor who embarrassed Chinese leaders by exposing blood-selling schemes that infected thousands with HIV, has been detained by authorities at her home in central China's Henan province since Thursday, apparently to prevent her from applying for a U.S. visa, fellow AIDS activists said.

She was to be honored next month by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"We would like to believe that this is a misunderstanding because Dr. Gao has been publicly recognized by the Chinese government many times," Wenchi Yu Perkins, the group's human rights program director, said in an e-mail. "We are talking to our contacts in China to understand what is happening."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday denied knowledge of Gao's situation but insisted China was a "country ruled by law."

"We protect the rights of all citizens," she said. "Nobody has the right to be above the law."

Gao's phone rang unanswered Tuesday and supporters say the line was disabled late last week.

Guo Chufei, Gao's son, said 10 plainclothes policemen were stationed outside his mother's apartment in Henan's Zhengzhou city to prevent her from leaving. He said they showed him badges from the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau when he visited his mother on Monday.

"They don't want her to speak out about this stuff any more than she already has and not abroad," Guo said when asked why he thought authorities didn't want his mother to travel.

For Gao, 80, it's at least the third such run-in. In 2001, she was refused a passport to go to Washington to accept an award from a U.N. group and in 2003 was prevented from going to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

Li Dan, an activist with Dongzhen, an organization that helps AIDS orphans, said Gao's passport and paperwork have been submitted with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing but she must appear in person to provide fingerprints.

Calls Tuesday to the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau were referred to the city's Communist Party, where a woman said to call the Henan provincial Communist Party, where phones rang unanswered.

Gao gained recognition in the late 1990s for her efforts to alert people in Henan to an outbreak being spread by tainted blood transfusions while the government was tightlipped about its problem with the disease.

She spoke openly to the press and distributed brochures about the spread of AIDS among poor farmers because of the blood-buying industry. She has distributed medicine, cared for AIDS orphans and hosted those battling AIDS in her modest apartment.

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.

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On the Net:

Vital Voices http://www.vitalvoices.org


© 2007 The Associated Press