Chinese Aids activist flees to US

Chinese Aids activist flees to US

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Tags: Heroes, Wan Yanhai, China, Aids

Wan Yanhai is used to harassment by authorities, but the unwanted attention got steadily worse this year for the founder of a prominent Chinese Aids advocacy group.

Authorities cancelled the group’s anniversary celebration, sent inspectors to its offices, and had police interrupt his talk at a university.

Finally, after dozens of intimidating phone calls from police in a single day, Wan fled to America last week with his wife and child.

His departure illustrates the toll that relentless official harassment takes on Chinese activists, even those working on issues such as Aids that are recognised by the Government as legitimate concerns.

“The attacks from the Government had become very serious for my organisation and for me personally,” Wan said by phone from Philadelphia. “I had concerns about my personal safety and was under a lot of stress.”

In recent months, Beijing has been tightening its control over independent groups and activists that are seen as threats to the Government’s authority.

A renowned women’s rights organisation was closed last month, while two lawyers who represented a member of an outlawed spiritual movement were last week banned from practising law for life.

In March, the Government began regulating overseas donations to aid groups, a move that has squeezed the funding of organisations like Wan’s Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute, which offers legal advice to people with HIV and campaigns against discrimination.

The rule says groups such as Aizhixing must prove that overseas nonprofit donor groups are registered in their home countries and follow detailed agreements with foreign donors on how donated funds are spent.

Wan said police interrupted a talk he was due to give to the Southern China Science and Industry University on sexual orientation and mental health. He said he later heard that a notice had been sent to universities nationwide telling them not to invite him to speak.

Finally, on April 23, he received dozens of phone calls from police about an event to train lawyers on how to use new social media.

Two days after the phone calls, Wan and his wife left Beijing.

“To be honest, I was becoming very worried. I felt like if we had acted slower, it would not have been good,” he said. The family decided to leave during a business trip to neighbouring Hong Kong.

In recent years, China’s Government has made huge strides in openly addressing the spread of HIV, but it is deeply suspicious of independent activists, and Wan has one of the highest profiles among those working on Aids in China.

A former Health Ministry official, Wan founded the Aizhixing Institute in 1994 to raise awareness and fight discrimination.

Among its most significant and politically sensitive work was the publicising of the spread of Aids in the 1990s among villagers in central China’s Henan province, where people who sold blood were re-injected with pooled blood after buyers had removed important components.

Aizhixing’s advocacy alone was enough to make authorities view Wan with suspicion, said Kin-man Chan, director of the Centre for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“If you don’t allow these NGOs to represent those disadvantaged groups and voice out their grievances, then people might at the end of the day take some isolated, more radical actions to express their disappointment,” Chan said.

Wan’s move was met with support by Chinese activists, many of whom posted messages on Twitter, although some also expressed regret at his departure and worries about the future of his organisation.

– AP


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One Response to “Chinese Aids activist flees to US”

  1. Chinese Aids activist flees to US | Unsung Heroes Says:

    Randal Rockford

    Wan Yanhai is used to harassment by authorities, but the unwanted attention got steadily worse this year for the founder of a prominent Chinese Aids advocacy group. Authorities cancelled the group


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