China detains AIDS activists14th April 2008
Authorities in the northern Chinese province of Hebei have detained a number of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS after they tried to complain to visiting premier Wen Jiabao.
Lawyers for two HIV-infected women said some residents of Shahe had hoped to contact Wen during his visit to the area to tell him about a hospital which they said was spreading HIV through the local population via blood transfusions.
Beijing-based lawyers Jiang Qianyong and Li Chunfu said police detained 11 petitioners at the time of the visit, and seven or eight remained in custody.
They also reported being followed by men believed to be local officials and plainclothes police as they tried to secure the release of their clients' husbands.
Jiang said the lawyers travelled to Shahe in the hope of finding some answers and securing the two men's release, but instead they had themselves been the target of official harassment. The two husbands remained behind bars.
Tensions are rife surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China, which spread rapidly in China's rural provinces in the 1990s via contaminated commercial blood-donor operations run by private businesses and hospitals alike.
Veteran AIDS doctor Wan Yanhai, who was the first to blow the whistle on China's tainted blood-banks, said the petitioners were a threat to official claims that the problem had now been eradicated.
Wan, who runs a Beijing-based AIDS NGO called the Aizhixing Institute, said most people infected through the blood-banks had not been given compensation for what happened, and that where compensation had been awarded, it was woefully inadequate. Many people were seeking to sue the hospitals and officials they believed responsible for their infection with the virus, she added.
Local officials in Shahe and Xingtai said they were either unaware of the details of the case, or that it fell outside their area of responsibility.
In spite of widely publicised programmes giving out free medicine and financial assistance to rural AIDS sufferers, together with visits from top leaders aimed at lessening social stigma surrounding HIV, many patients and advocates say they are still blocked from taking any action to sue hospitals and health officials.
Meanwhile, the two lawyers and their clients boarded a long-distance bus back to Beijing, with men identifying themselves as officials not far behind.
The officials said they were coming along to take care of the two women and their special needs, Jiang said.
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