Chinese AIDS Activist Wan Yanhai Released After ‘Confessing’ To Leaking State Secrets
Chinese AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was "unexpectedly" released Friday afternoon after being detained for a month by China's State Security Bureau because he released a "classified" government document indicating that Chinese health authorities were "well aware of a serious HIV problem" in Henan province in the mid-1990s, the New York Times reports (Rosenthal, New York Times, 9/21). According to Reuters, Wan was released after he confessed to "leaking state secrets" related to the document. Xinhua News quoted a Chinese government official as saying that the bureau released Wan after he "confessed to breaking the law and agreed to help in the investigation" into who gave him the document (Reuters, 9/20). Wan, who disappeared on Aug. 24, was a key figure in exposing the connection between unsafe blood collection practices and HIV infections in Henan province between 1994 and 1997. Earlier this month, officials from the State Security Bureau told one of Wan's colleagues that Wan was being held for posting on his Web site a classified document. The document, prepared by the Henan Health Bureau in 2002, indicated that officials in the province knew that HIV was a "serious" problem as early as 1995. The report had been labeled by the bureau as "secret" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/9). Xinhua quoted an official as saying, "Wan was detained for violating Chinese laws and for being suspected of illegally providing state secrets overseas. After being investigated, Wan confessed to his unlawful activities, pleaded guilty and assisted the police in tracing providers of the illegal secrets" (Reuters, 9/20). Wan said the Chinese government had been "very forgiving" of him, adding that, as of Friday, the government had no plans to charge him with a crime. He added that that "could change, of course" (Pomfret, Washington Post, 9/21). Wan said that he learned from his detainment that he must "work more conscientiously in the future" (Chu/Kuhn, Los Angeles Times, 9/21). "I acknowledged that I had sent out a confidential document, and that my behavior was illegal," Wan said, adding, "I didn't feel the need to play the hero. What I really care about is the AIDS problem, and I hope to continue my work in this area" (Chang, Wall Street Journal, 9/23).
Detainment Brought More Attention to HIV/AIDS Crisis in China
Wan's four-week detainment by the Chinese government has "probably done more to highlight China's AIDS problems and to press the government to act than his years of hard work that came before it," according to the New York Times. "If this incident helps attract more concern and support for victims of AIDS and their families and children here in China, then it can be considered an opportunity we should grasp," Wan said, adding that his work to fight HIV/AIDS in China will not be "hindered" by his detainment (New York Times, 9/21). Wan's disappearance prompted international "concern and outrage," and a group of AIDS activists gathered in protest at the Chinese Consulate in New York the day before Wan was released (Los Angeles Times, 9/21). According to human rights activists, Wan was released more quickly than anyone else detained by China's State Security. Officials with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had "warned" Chinese officials that their $90 million grant application would not be approved while Wan remained in state security custody. "They really want -- they really need -- the money from the Global Fund," an unnamed person familiar with China's grant application said, adding that "too much [was] at risk" if the government did not release Wan (New York Times, 9/21).
Wan Set to Register AIDS Group as NGO in China
In related news, Wan today announced plans to register his HIV/AIDS organization, the Beijing AIDS Action Health Education Institute, as a nongovernmental organization in China, Agence France-Presse reports. In an Agence France-Presse interview, Wan said that he had been "in the process" of registering his organization when he was taken into government custody on Aug. 24. He and some of his associates attempted to register the organization today with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Beijing but were told that they needed an administrator for the organization. "It's a technical problem," Wan said, adding that the group anticipated naming an administrator today or tomorrow. The group should then be authorized in approximately two weeks, according to Agence France-Presse. Wan said he had a "good feeling" about the group's registration application (Agence France-Presse, 9/23).