Chinese Authorities Release HIV/AIDS Advocate Gao To Accept Award in U.S.
Chinese authorities on Friday agreed to release HIV/AIDS advocate and retired physician Gao Yaojie from house arrest so that she can visit the U.S. to accept an award from the group Vital Voices Global Partnership, the New York Times reports (Yardley, New York Times, 2/17). 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 care 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 earlier this month 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, 2/16).
According to the Financial Times, Gao in a telephone interview said that she was told by Chen on Friday that she would not be prevented from traveling to the U.S. to accept the award. Gao also said that Chen offered no apology and did not acknowledge the police guards outside her home. She added that three guards were still present on Sunday (Dickie, Financial Times, 2/19). Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- a Vital Voices honorary co-chair who announced China's decision after hearing from the Chinese ambassador in Washington, D.C. -- in a statement said that she is "delighted" by the decision and that she was assured Gao would be "allowed to travel freely to the" U.S. (New York Times, 2/17).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday reported on Gao's attempt to travel to the U.S. The segment includes comments from Gao, Hu and Wenchi Yu Perkins of Vital Voices (Kuhn, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/19). Audio of the segment is available online.