China Allows AIDS Activist to Visit U.S.

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By DEVLIN BARRETT
The Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007; 3:41 PM

WASHINGTON -- Chinese officials signaled Friday they will allow a prominent AIDS activist who had been confined to her home to visit the United States next month, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

Gao Yaojie, 80, was confined to her home, worrying fellow activists who said the measure was aimed at keeping her from making the trip to the United States to accept an award from a non-profit group.

Clinton had pressed Chinese officials to let Gao travel to accept the reward from Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by Clinton, a New York Democrat and presidential candidate.

Clinton aides said the Chinese ambassador called the senator Friday to tell her Gao would be allowed to travel.

"I'm delighted to learn from the Chinese government that our request to President Hu and Vice Premier Wu that Dr. Gao be allowed to travel freely to the United States has been granted," Clinton said in a statement.

Melanne Verveer, chair of the board of Vital Voices, said she was "elated" by the news and called Gao "a world-recognized leader on behalf of an issue critically important to China and the world community."

Even as Gao was stuck in her house, a Communist Party deputy secretary praised her Monday, illustrating China's inconsistent attitude toward whistleblowers like Gao.

Gao is believed to have angered many officials by exposing corrupt blood-selling schemes in Henan province that infected thousands with HIV.

Last week, Gao was blocked from leaving her home by plainclothes police, apparently to prevent her from applying for a U.S. visa, her family and fellow AIDS activists said.

Vital Voices human rights program director Wenchi Yu Perkins said last week the group was talking to contacts in China to "understand what is happening."

Gao had refused government demands that she decline to pick up the award.

Although never charged with any crime, Gao has been detained under similar circumstances at least twice before.

In 2001, she was refused a passport to go to Washington to accept an award from a U.N. group, and in 2003 she was prevented from going to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

Gao's activism was deeply embarrassing to provincial officials who had tried to squelch all reporting on the illegal blood-buying schemes. They were assisted in part by a central government that has only recently begun to candidly discuss its AIDS problems.

Gao has distributed medicine and information booklets, cared for AIDS orphans and hosted those battling AIDS in her modest apartment.


© 2007 The Associated Press

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