HIV/AIDS Advocate Gao Remains Under House Arrest Despite Abandoning Plans To Accept Award in U.S.
Chinese HIV/AIDS advocate and retired physician Gao Yaojie on Thursday said she remains under house arrest despite abandoning plans to visit the U.S. to accept an award from the group Vital Voices Global Partnership, the New York Times reports (Yardley, New York Times, 2/16). According to Gao's friend and Beijing-based AIDS advocate Hu Jia, Chinese authorities from the eastern province Henan told Gao not to attend the Vital Voices awards ceremony. When Gao refused, she was put under house arrest to prevent her from traveling to Beijing to apply for a U.S. visa, Hu said. Gao's friends and family were blocked from visiting her or were questioned before being given permission to visit, and her daughter was placed under police surveillance, Hu said. Gao in the 1990s alerted people in Henan of HIV cases that occurred through tainted blood transfusions. Gao also distributed material warning people of HIV and the risks of donating blood. In addition, Gao has distributed medicine to HIV-positive people, provided cared for AIDS orphans and hosted people living with HIV/AIDS in her home. She also has written a book about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in China. Chinese authorities in 2001 and 2003 prevented Gao from traveling abroad to accept awards for her work. Communist Party deputy secretary for Henan Chen Quanguo on Monday visited Gao in her home and praised her "long-standing contributions" to the province's "education, health and AIDS prevention work." HIV/AIDS advocate Li Dan said Chen might have visited Gao to offset negative publicity abroad (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/14). Gao on Wednesday said that she promised not to visit the U.S. and that she asked her sister, who lives in Los Angeles, to receive the award. However, four police officers remained outside her apartment, Reuters/Khaleej Times reports.
"I had no choice," Gao said, adding "I had to consider my family and the threats to them. I think they'll keep me detained until March. They don't want me to talk about AIDS, especially to foreigners. But if we don't speak about it, AIDS will keep spreading" (Reuters/Khaleej Times, 2/14). Human Rights Watch in a statement said, "There is no justification for the naked intimidation and harassment that Dr. Gao, one of China's most respected HIV/AIDS activists, has faced since she indicated her intention to travel abroad to collect her award." Gao's case "raises a number of serious concerns about the genuine character of China's commitment to address the country's HIV/AIDS crisis," HRW added (Ang, Associated Press, 2/15). Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based researcher for HWR, said detentions like Gao's in China "calls into doubt" the country's "commitment to let the grass-roots groups and HIV activists carry out their work unhindered." He added, "It really clearly shows that Beijing has endorsed this restriction on Gao. They are probably worried about her going" to the U.S. (New York Times, 2/16). Vital Voices and the State Department have expressed concerns about Gao's detention. Officials in Henan's capital, Zhengzhou, would not answer questions from reporters about Gao, Reuters/Times reports (Reuters/Khaleej Times, 2/14).