Christian Science Monitor Reports Chinese AIDS Activist Wan Yanhai is ‘Alive and Safe’
The Christian Science Monitor today reports that Chinese AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, who "vanished" on Aug. 24, is "alive and safe," according to friends. However, his friends were "reluctant" to provide additional information regarding Wan's whereabouts for fear of government reprisals, fueling speculation that Wan is being detained by Chinese authorities (Marguand, Christian Science Monitor, 9/3). Wan was a key figure in exposing through his Web site the connection between unsafe blood collection practices and HIV infections in Henan province between 1994 and 1997. Wan also ran an AIDS group called the AIDS Action Project, but friends say Chinese authorities "forced" the group to leave its offices in Beijing earlier this summer (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/29).
Reasons for Detention
Human rights observers have speculated that authorities are detaining Wan because he dispersed an internal Henan health ministry document to members of an AIDS e-mail list serve last month. Although the memo "repeats much of what is known" about the province's AIDS epidemic, it is a state document and its distribution without proper authorization may be illegal. The Monitor reports that Chinese officials are particularly wary of criticism of the government right now because of the upcoming 16th Party Congress, which is expected to "usher in a major leadership change" in the nation. Officials have mandated that "no troublesome or 'bad' news" be published in the period running up to the conference, which begins on Nov. 8. Prior to being shut down, the AIDS Action Project had begun drafting petitions to the United Nations, the United States and European governments asking for more assistance to fight HIV/AIDS. Wan's detention has not been verified by police, and he has not been formally charged with any crime (Christian Science Monitor, 9/3). On Friday, U.S. officials asked the Chinese government for information regarding Wan's disappearance but had not yet heard anything in response (Reuters, 8/30). Amnesty International has also called on Chinese officials to verify Wan's whereabouts and to "ensure Wan receives full access to his family, lawyers and medical treatment" if he is in police custody (Agence France-Presse, 8/31).