Suppression of Chinese People with AIDS


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Arrested Chinese Health Official Released Without Trial

Agence France Presse (10.20.03) - Monday, October 20, 2003

A Chinese health official suspected of leaking information on Henan province's HIV/AIDS outbreak has been released from jail without standing trial, his wife said today. Ma Shiwen, a deputy head of Henan's center for disease control, was released Thursday after Chinese AIDS activists and international health organizations demanded his freedom. "He has been released, they released him on October 16," Ma's wife told AFP by phone.

Ma was arrested April 14 on suspicion of leaking secret documents. The document was believed to be a report Ma drafted on Henan's HIV outbreak related to state and private blood-buying centers during the late 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in entire villages being infected with HIV. The document was anonymously sent to a Beijing-based nonprofit AIDS prevention organization, Aizhi Action Group, which circulated it on its Web site, bringing the hushed-up epidemic to light.

Ma's release came just before a visit to China by US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, who urged Chinese health authorities Sunday to be more open and forthcoming on reporting epidemic diseases like AIDS and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Police and government officials did not say why Ma was released, and it was unclear if he would be able to return to his work or whether the government could re-arrest him, his wife said. Henan's health department refused to comment on the issue, but said that Ma no longer works for the department.

The global rights group Human Rights Watch earlier this month condemned Ma's arrest and urged his release, saying that government officials instead should be held accountable for the Henan AIDS crisis. To date, HRW said, China has not officially investigated state responsibility for the spread of HIV through blood sales. Some officials linked to the scandal have been promoted.

Chinese jailed over AIDS secret

October 6, 2003   

A leading health official in China's AIDS-stricken Henan province has been
sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on a conviction of leaking state secrets.

Ma Shiwen, deputy director of the Henan Centre for Disease Control (CDC),
who was arrested several months ago for leaking documents on the Henan
epidemic, was recently sentenced, according to Gao Yaojie, a well-known
volunteer doctor in Henan.

"The newspapers haven't reported it, but it's true. I heard it from several
Henan health department officials," Gao told AFP.

"They said he was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for revealing
AIDS secrets."

Wan Yanhai, director of the non-governmental AIDS activist organisation
Aizhi Action Group, also said from the United States where he is a visiting
scholar that he had heard Ma had been sentenced. He said the sentence was a
10-year prison term.

An overseas human rights group also told AFP by email that Ma had been
sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The sentencing could not be immediately confirmed.

Ma's wife could not be reached for comment and courts in Henan were closed
for the National Day public holiday.

An employee at the Henan health department said Ma was on indefinite leave
but refused to say whether he had been sentenced.

"He's not here anymore. He's taking time off. I don't know when he'll be
back. Don't ask anymore," said the man.

Gao said health department officials told her Ma was accused of leaking an
official document that was anonymously sent to Aizhi Action Group on August
24 last year and which revealed to some extent the AIDS outbreak in Henan.

Tens of thousands and by some estimates as many as a million villagers in
Henan were infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS after selling blood
to supplement their income at unsanitary, government-approved blood
collection stations beginning in the mid-1980s.

The Chinese government initially tried to cover up the scandal when it was
reported by a few Chinese papers in 2000.

To this day, China has not revealed the true extent of the outbreak, despite
recently beginning to seek funding from abroad to treat some of the victims.

Health official jailed for distributing information on AIDS scandal must be freed

October 7, 2003

A human rights organization demanded Tuesday that China release a health official reportedly convicted of circulating a restricted government report on a blood-selling scandal that spread AIDS in a central Chinese province.

It was at least the second such legal action involving the same government report.

Human Rights Watch said Ma Shiwen should be freed immediately and not be punished for distributing the report, which it said blamed national authorities for the spread of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, in the central Chinese province of Henan. The report apparently was given to Chinese AIDS activists.

"The Chinese government is targeting honest health officials, but it has done little to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Henan," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division of the New York-based rights group.

"China must release Ma Shiwen immediately and instead hold accountable the government officials responsible for this crisis," he said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch didn't say which court in Henan convicted Ma. A duty officer at Henan's People's High Court, reached by telephone Tuesday, told The Associated Press she did not know which court had been responsible for the case and had no information about it.

China has begun to release information about AIDS after denying for years that it was a problem. The Health Ministry said last month that China has about 1 million people infected with the AIDS virus. It said the figure
could reach 10 million by the end of the decade without proper prevention measures.

The government's approach to health policy has drawn additional scrutiny in recent months because of the SARS outbreak that killed 349 people in mainland China and infected thousands. The Beijing leadership was initially reluctant to release SARS information but adopted a less publicly stringent policy after coming under withering international criticism.

In the Henan AIDS scandal, dealers in the 1990s bought blood from villagers and pooled it, mixing healthy blood with HIV-infected blood. They then extracted plasma, a blood component with medical uses, and re-injected the rest of the blood back into those who sold it.

Human Rights Watch said Ma was arrested in August and charged with circulating state secrets by using his computer to send the report to AIDS activists in China; earlier in the year he had been arrested and released on the same charges, it said.

There is no indication that the Chinese government has announced Ma's arrest.

Last year, Chinese AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was released after being held for nearly a month by state security agents who claimed he leaked official secrets by distributing a report about AIDS in Henan. Human Rights Watch said that was the same report that Ma had circulated.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said then that Wan was released after he confessed to having "delivered some illegally acquired interior classified documents of relevant state departments to overseas individuals, media sources and Web sites." He distributed the report on the Internet.

The report, by the Henan Health Department, blamed the national Ministry of Health, the army, illegal blood collection centers and the lack of information about AIDS for the spread of HIV in Henan, Human Rights Watch said.

It said Henan authorities had restricted access to the internal report that condemned government authorities for their role in the blood scandal on the grounds that it is a state secret.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a more general report in Hong Kong that accused China's government of fueling the spread of AIDS by refusing treatment and hiding information.

     Release Health Official Jailed for AIDS Report   Human Rights Watch [off-site]


A group of activists including staffers from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, independent Chinese AIDS activists, American AIDS activists and China scholars have written a letter--attached--to address the recent attacks on AIDS villages in Henan, China because the people were requesting medical treatment.

As you may know, as many as one million people in Henan province have AIDS, with most infected through blood selling schemes run by the same local officials who are attacking them now. This is an advanced epidemic, and there is a desperate need for immediate, science-based treatment and prevention.

We are seeking recognized AIDS and public health experts to sign the letter--we think this is a group that senior Chinese officials respect. Our deadline is this **Thursday**, and then a small group of AIDS experts will present the letter to the Chinese government, possibly through a meeting at the embassy in DC (we haven't decided yet).

Activists will be staying out the picture for this letter. We welcome signers from every country, but we are focusing on recognized AIDS and public health experts and scholars.

Please let us know whether we can add your name as a signer, and forward this letter to your email lists as you see fit.

Thanks.   Katie Krauss, ACT UP Philadelphia & AIDS Policy Project   
+1 215 545 3104

for more information, contact:   Meg Davis, Ph.D.  
Human Rights Watch/Asia Division +1 212 216 1215

Mr. Wen Jiabao
Premier of the People's Republic of China
State Council
9 Xihuangchenggen beijie
Beijing, 100032
People's Republic of China

Ms. Wu Yi
Minister of Public Health of the People's Republic of China
Ministry of Health
1 Xizhimenwai
Xicheng District
Beijing, 100044
People's Republic of China


Your Excellency and Minister Wu:

As physicians, scholars and public health experts, we were gravely concerned to learn of the reported beating and arrests of villagers with HIV/AIDS by local police in Henan province last month. HIV-positive villagers in Henan have organized ongoing protests to call for health care, antiretroviral treatment, and humanitarian aid, while decrying the misappropriation of funds intended to provide care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The harassment of people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates diminishes China's ability to halt its AIDS epidemic, which is advancing rapidly and threatens to rival the epidemics in Africa and India in the near future. It is urgent that China take effective treatment and prevention measures, such as those recommended by the World Health Organization.

At the same time, we are encouraged to learn that the Central Government is working to develop an AIDS plan that will provide ARV treatment for tens of thousands of people, and that 3,000 people in a pilot project in Henan are already receiving ARV treatment. We applaud and support these efforts.

In solidarity with people with HIV/AIDS in China, we respectfully make these requests, which were first raised by the Henan farmers:

1. Make antiretroviral medical treatment immediately available to all people with AIDS in Henan.

2. Offer free education and care for orphans and children of HIV-positive parents in Henan. This is not yet available for many affected children.

3. Investigate the alleged misuse of AIDS funds by Henan clinics and hospitals, and hold those responsible accountable.

4. Reduce the taxation of crops that the Henan government requires from farmers after harvest. Currently, farmers must contribute so much to the government that many families affected by HIV/AIDS are starving.

5. Establish AIDS medical clinics throughout Henan, including in Xiongqiao village.

As public health experts concerned about the situation of people with AIDS in China, we additionally address these respectful requests to you:

1. Provide access to ARV treatment for all people living with HIV/AIDS in China and offer prevention education for all persons at high risk of HIV.

2. Immediately and unconditionally release those arrested during the Xiongqiao raid. Beijing must stop the harassing, beating, and detention of people with HIV/AIDS and AIDS advocates by local police.

3. Establish a State Council committee to investigate Henan province_s handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and hold those responsible accountable.

4. Disclose accurate AIDS epidemiological information from the Ministry of Health, including the numbers of people who are infected with HIV and an accurate list of the counties and villages affected by HIV/AIDS.


We look forward to your reply, and we support your efforts to provide AIDS prevention and treatment for Chinese citizens.



.download (pdf) signed letter

see this important report
The Human Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS in China

Recent Press

From The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 3, Number 10: 1 October 2003

No more business as usual in China

In September two independent human rights reports documented the extent and severity of discrimination, abuse, and marginalisation of people with HIV/AIDS in China. The first report was from the US-based Human Rights Watch ( ) and the second from the Beijing-based Aizhi Action Project ( ). Both reports describe how the Chinese government has actively hindered progress towards halting the epidemic, denied people access to treatment and care, prevented the exchange of information on HIV/AIDS, and promoted unlawfulness and corruption in many parts of the country.

Government officials were quick to denounce the reports, but a prominent Chinese AIDS expert openly agreed that the reports were accurate, and gave a comprehensive picture of the human rights injustices seen today. Yet, by contrast, earlier this year, China took unprecedented action to swiftly bring severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) under control. So why has the more widespread and dangerous HIV/AIDS epidemic not been treated in a similar way? And what lessons can be learned from China's experience with SARS?

To begin with, SARS was handled in much the same way as HIV. For example, there has been no formal investigation into the involvement of local authorities in the Hennan blood scandal, which has left more than 1 million people infected with HIV. The cover-up of the blood scandal in Hennan and the central provinces encouraged the cover up of SARS. There was impunity for officials in Hennan, which clearly sent a message to other officials that if you have an epidemic, keep it quiet. The fact that China held government officials accountable for lying about the SARS epidemic set a good standard, and now they should do the same for AIDS. The reports recommend that those responsible should be held accountable, and compensation and treatment be provided immediately to those who have
contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of receiving contaminated blood.

Where the handling of SARS and HIV began to differ was when the economic consequences of SARS were realised. SARS, an airborne disease, moved quickly from the rural provinces of Guangdong to the urban centres of mainland China, and then worldwide. It had a very visible impact on China's trade and tourist industry. By contrast, HIV is largely confined to the poorer rural parts of the country, and is often associated with the more “expendable” communities of society. Although the economic toll of HIV is yet to be really felt, the government may want to change its thinking about the unimportance of its rural communities. A recent World Bank report and another report from the States Information Centre in China point out that future economic growth will be severely constrained unless the country improves conditions in the impoverished regions.

These improvements would include delivering better public services to poor localities, and providing greater financial support in rebuilding rural health-care systems, improving the quality of medical care, and offering insurance schemes, including protection against catastrophic illness like AIDS. Indeed, the SARS epidemic exposed China's inadequate public health-care infrastructure in the countryside. In the past 20 years, as the country has moved to a market economy, there has been a withdrawal of funds and incomplete reforms in rural areas, which has meant that the poor are expected to pay for services and treatment, but are often unable to do so.

Despite the many failings of China to confront its HIV problem head on, the human rights reports do highlight the successes of small-scale pilot prevention and education projects, and new positive policy statements emphasising the importance of non-discrimination in national action plans. What is needed now is legal reform to ensure these policies are implemented at a local level. But perhaps the most hopeful sign of all that China is slowly acknowledging the huge scale of the problem, is the country's bid for US$100 million in aid from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The application publicly acknowledges many facts about the epidemic for the first time, including where the government went wrong. It signals a significant step forward by the government to provide universal AIDS treatment and care. Approval of the fund will be decided in October. It is unclear whether the human rights reports will complicate the bid, although it is hoped that international donors will include human rights guarantees in their working agreements in China.

There is no doubt that China has far greater economic resources today than it did when the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in 1985. But as China opens its doors to more foreign investment and trade, and the migration of rural communities to urban areas increases, a rising toll of HIV could still halt the rise of this “tiger” economy.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases

China Meets AIDS Crisis With Force
Police, Not Physicians, Answer Villagers' Pleas

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 18, 2003; Page A01

XIONGQIAO, China -- Xiong Jinglun was lying in bed on the night of the raid, resting his frail, AIDS-weakened body when the shouting outside jarred him awake. The 51-year-old farmer struggled to his feet and shuffled out of his shack to investigate, but someone had cut off the electricity in the village, and it was difficult to see in the pitch dark.

Suddenly, several men wearing riot gear and military fatigues surrounded him, struck his head with a nightstick and knocked him to the ground, he recalled. Xiong begged them to stop hitting him, crying out that he was an old man, that he had AIDS. But he heard one of the assailants shout: "Beat them! Beat them even if they have AIDS!"

A few days earlier, residents of this AIDS-stricken Chinese village had staged a protest demanding better medical care, rolling two government vehicles into a ditch to vent their frustration. Now, local authorities here in central Henan province, about 425 miles northwest of Shanghai, were answering their appeal for help. But instead of doctors, they sent the police.

More than 500 officers, local officials and hired thugs stormed the muddy hamlet of 600 residents on the night of June 21, shouting threats, smashing windows and randomly pummeling people who got in their way, witnesses said. Police jailed 18 villagers and injured more than a dozen others, including an 8-year-old boy who tried to defend his sick mother.

"They beat me because I stepped outside," Xiong said, coughing and pointing out scars and bruises on his head, arms and legs. Like many villagers, he said was afraid the police would return. But he agreed to an interview, saying, "I'm going to die anyway."

The desperation of residents in Xiongqiao and the local government's blunt response has complicated China's bid for $100 million in aid from the U.N. Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. AIDS activists have demanded human rights guarantees from the government as a condition for any funding. The incident also highlights the political challenge that AIDS presents to China's ruling Communist Party, which has presided over two decades of strong economic growth but still struggles to deliver such complex public services as health care and often ignores or punishes those who complain.

Earlier this year, the Chinese government managed to contain an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, by mobilizing the party's vast apparatus to quarantine anyone with symptoms of the disease. But the AIDS virus, which the United Nations estimates has infected as many as 1.5 million people in China, poses a far greater problem for China's rigid political system.

'They Want to Save Face'

Experts say strong political leadership, grass-roots activism and the free flow of information are critical to fighting AIDS. But China's top leaders, including its new health minister, Wu Yi, have been silent on the subject, while the government has harassed activists, restricted reporting on AIDS in the state media and devoted few resources to educating the public about the disease.

The leadership is reluctant to allow an open discussion about AIDS in part because it fears it would be blamed for the epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of poor farmers like Xiong contracted the virus by selling blood in the early 1990s at state hospitals and private clinics run by local officials and their friends. These programs often used unsanitary collection methods, including a process in which blood was mixed in a centrifuge to remove plasma and then reinjected into donors.

Selling blood was extremely popular in the impoverished countryside of central China. In its application for U.N. AIDS funding, Beijing acknowledged for the first time that at least 250,000 people in seven provinces had contracted AIDS by selling blood. AIDS activists said the actual figure was much higher.

In Xiongqiao, a dirt-poor village where naked children play amid fields of corn and sesame and most residents share the surname Xiong, villagers said they often sold blood several times a month. At least 100 of the 600 residents have contracted the AIDS virus, and many others have been unwilling to be tested. People began showing symptoms a few years ago, and almost everyone has a relative who has died.

Xiong Changshun, 35, said his wife died first, committing suicide three years ago by throwing herself into a well so the family could use all its money to treat their daughter. But the next year, Xiong watched his 3-year-old girl pass away. Then, last year, complications from AIDS killed his father.

"The AIDS situation in our village is as serious as any of the villages around here. We urgently need a clinic, but the local leaders don't care. They want to save face. They don't want outsiders to know what's happening," said Xiong Changshun, who is HIV-positive. "We want to go to Beijing to ask for help, but we're scared. What if they come back and beat us again?"

In another home nearby, an emaciated boy lay listless on a hard mattress, his ribs visible through his skin. His father, Xiong Zhiping, 36, administered an intravenous drip to the child, Pengcong, after using a cigarette lighter to sterilize the needle.

Xiong said he treats his 4-year-old son because there are no doctors in the village and he cannot afford to admit him to a hospital. Xiong said he, too, has AIDS, but because medicine is so expensive, he buys it only for his boy.

Prodded by studies showing AIDS could seriously hurt the economy, Beijing has taken tentative steps to confront the epidemic and launched a pilot project to provide free or subsidized treatment in certain hard-hit areas.

The dire conditions in Xiongqiao are striking because the village is covered by the project, which promises free treatment with antiretroviral drugs, the "AIDS cocktail," that can significantly extend a patient's life. About 2,000 people in Shangcai county, where Xiongqiao is located, are receiving the drugs, and the project will cover 5,000 patients in four provinces by year's end, officials said.

In addition, the government said in a written statement, people with HIV or AIDS in Shangcai are receiving monthly coupons worth between $12 and $36 to cover their medical costs, and families with economic difficulties are supposed to receive breaks on agricultural taxes and school fees.

But residents in Xiongqiao said local officials have ignored the tax relief policy, insisting that even households with two sick adults continue to make fixed grain payments although it is harder for them to bring in the harvest.

The villagers also said they were being charged about $3 per month for the "free" drugs, and that the coupons were not enough to buy the other medicine they need to fight infections. They also said the nearest hospital charges more for medicine when they pay with the coupons.

China's health care system has fared poorly in the transition from socialism to capitalism. Hospitals remain nearly as inefficient as they were under the planned economy, but funding cuts and incomplete reforms have resulted in rising costs for patients. In the countryside, where China's AIDS cases are concentrated, medical care is getting worse and more expensive, and health insurance is almost nonexistent.

Rural doctors routinely rely on drug sales to boost their meager incomes. At the hospital nearest Xiongqiao, doctors said they make as little as $12 a month and acknowledged they try to make a profit on the AIDS medicine.

"We can use the coupons to get medicine from the county," said Ji Yufeng, a young physician at the hospital. "Then we lift the price a little and sell it to the patients."

Angry Reactions

Many villagers in Xiongqiao who began taking the antiretroviral drugs have already quit, complaining of vomiting, headaches and other side effects. There are no doctors in the village to help them stick with the daily pills, and even those at the nearest hospital lack the training and lab equipment needed to monitor patients and fine-tune their treatment. A local health official said as many as 60 percent of all AIDS patients in the county have refused to take the free drugs.

The residents of Xiongqiao said they complained about these problems, but nothing happened and people continued to die. Rumors began circulating that local officials had received more than $6,000 to build a clinic in the village but had opted not to do so. Then, in mid-June, police arrested an HIV-positive woman who pretended to be a healthy relative and went in for an AIDS test so her family could obtain more benefits.

The arrest upset many villagers, who felt the fraud was justified because local officials weren't doing enough to help them. Angry and desperate, more than 100 people set out for the township government to demand the woman's release and appeal for better medical care, an AIDS clinic and tax relief.

Some of the protesters had been drinking, and the crowd clashed with local officials on the way, roughing up one official and pushing two government vehicles into a ditch, participants said. The next day, the villagers traveled to the county government and again presented their grievances.

After several days without a response, five villagers went to the provincial capital, Zhengzhou. But officials there would not see them and instead contacted local authorities, who had the men arrested. Police beat them, tied them up and hauled them back to a local jail, said Xiong Changmin, 31, one of the representatives.

That night, police launched the raid on Xiongqiao. A senior county police official, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Jia, confirmed that about 500 men participated in the raid and that they arrested 13 villagers. He said those detained had attacked a local official. But asked whether his men beat up people in Xiongqiao, he replied, "I'm not clear about that."

Police released all but five of the detained villagers over the next few weeks. Residents identified the men who remain in custody as Xiong Xingwei, Ban Guozheng, Xiong Erxi, Gao Wancheng and Xiong Zhiping. They said at least three of them have HIV or AIDS.

The incident has prompted outrage among both Chinese and foreign AIDS activists, who have called on foreign firms not to invest in Henan province and urged the Global Fund to withhold funding from China unless it enacts laws to protect AIDS activists and allow independent monitoring of how U.N. aid is spent.

In its application for the $100 million, the Chinese government said it wanted to expand the pilot project here to 56 counties, focusing on farmers who contracted the virus by selling blood. But activists said the raid on Xiongqiao demonstrated that without safeguards, the money is likely to be misused.

"If you give China money, then you should require they add these human rights protections," said Wan Yanhai, an AIDS activist who was detained briefly last year for distributing a government AIDS report. "If you don't stand with the AIDS activists and empower them, these funds may be corrupted. They may be used to hire thugs to beat people with AIDS."

Researcher Zhang Jing in Beijing contributed to this report.


AIDS Violence Flares in China

By Laurie Garrett   NEWSDAY Staff Writer,   August 3, 2003

In recent months, AIDS patients in China have been beaten, jailed, harassed and denied medicines that could extend their lives, say prominent AIDS and human rights activists.

The episodes appear to defy the hope that arose during the country's SARS crisis, as several political leaders and opinion makers called for across-the-board changes in how the nation deals with health issues, particularly HIV.

At least 1.5 million people in China are infected with HIV, according to government estimates, and in the SARS aftermath many observers were optimistic that a new openness would be forthcoming about AIDS - and that the rights of HIV patients would be taken seriously.

"Many people thought things would get better after SARS," Chinese AIDS dissident Wan Yan Hai said in an interview last week. "But it hasn't happened."

Indeed, violence has flared in recent weeks in China's Henan province, where an estimated 1 million peasants became infected during the 1990s after selling their blood to government-run clinics and then being transfused with pooled, contaminated blood.

Wan, who was jailed for a month last summer in China for revealing information about the country's HIV crisis, now runs the AIZHI Action Project, a clearinghouse for Chinese AIDS information, and splits his time between Beijing and New Haven, Conn. Information he has released about recent events has, in part, been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, the Philadelphia-based AIDS Policy Project and Western reporters based in Beijing.

For years, China denied having significant numbers of AIDS and HIV cases. Under international pressure over the last two years, the government has conceded the numbers are larger, but few experts accept the official estimate of 1 million to 1.5 million. The staff devoted to official HIV efforts is too small to conduct meaningful surveillance for HIV, so even the official numbers are guesswork, top officials say. Foreign journalists are denied access to areas of known concentration of HIV, and local party officials punish villagers who provide information about the epidemic.

The recent events began on May 18 when, Human Rights Watch says, about 100 AIDS patients tried to speak to a World Health Organization team investigating SARS cases in a Wenlou village hospital in Henan. As a protest began against discrimination by doctors and nurses against HIV-positive patients, police moved in, beating and arresting leader Yang Nidan, who is HIV-positive, in view of journalists.

The episode occurred as the Chinese government was finishing an application to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, seeking $100 million for treatment and prevention efforts. Two earlier applications had been rejected for failing to demonstrate that the country had a plan for HIV control. This new application contained a detailed plan, including giving top priority to Henan Province's Shangcai County, where an estimated 30 percent of all adults are HIV-infected.

"Just before the Chinese government delivered its [new] application to the fund, the trouble began," Wan said.

Tensions were rising in rural areas over an unrelated problem that ultimately affected the political climate in Henan: family planning. Local communist party officials in Shangcai County raised tax rates on families in which more than one child had been born since 1991, adding a penalty of 3,000 yuan per child (about $366) for farmers whose incomes average less than $400 a year. Many farmers refused to pay, and local Communist Party cadres were deployed to exact payment forcibly, removing television sets, refrigerators and other valuables from peasants' homes.

In one case, they seized the car of a farmer, Zhao Sian, who could not pay the fee because the encephalitis illness of one of his children had bankrupted the family. When he "stole" back his car, a fight broke out, involving hundreds of villagers who sympathized with Zhao, and he was charged with stabbing a party boss.

Thousands of villagers marched on the jail in April to demand Zhao's release; their leaders included two known AIDS activists.

During the second week of June, several people died of AIDS in Shangcai County and their funerals fanned emotions already high because of the new tax. Officials turned back village representatives pleading for assistance.

On June 19, five AIDS patients, including two in the April uprising, pleaded with officials in the Henan provincial capital, Zhengzhou, for food, financial support for orphans, school payment assistance for ailing families and medicine. All five were arrested.

When villagers marched on the People's Assembly Hall in Zhengzhou, police taped the five detainees' mouths shut and beat them.

On June 21, hundreds of police raided the sleeping Xiadiguan village, where residents, many dying of AIDS, were beaten and 18 arrested, charged with kidnapping the police chief during the April protests.

The following night, police attacked Xiongqiao village, where more than 100 of the 600 residents are HIV-positive, Wan said.

International organizations have pleaded with the Chinese government to stop the Henan violence. Last week, a coalition of leading HIV scientists and AIDS luminaries sent a letter to China's Premier Wen Jiabao, charging, "The harassment of people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates diminishes China's ability to halt its AIDS epidemic, which ... threatens to rival the epidemics in Africa and India in the near future."

Katie Krauss of the AIDS Policy Project asked, "Do they really expect the world community to hand them $100 million?" in Global Fund support.

In the 1990s, the blood trade was running full tilt and was considered a route for HIV transmission. Wan said farmers gave blood once a week, earning about 2,000 yuan a year. The blood banks removed commercially sellable proteins and factors from the blood, then pooled what remained and injected it into the donors. Though the practice was outlawed in 1996, blood businesses continue to thrive and spread HIV, according to a top health ministry official in Beijing who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official insists that local Communist Party leaders continue to profit from the illegal trade.

"The peasants are so very, very poor, they still follow those blood banks and give their blood to make money," the official said.

Reuse of syringes has also been identified as contributing to infection. Hospitals and "barefoot doctors" - paramedics who provide basic medical treatment at the village level - tend to reuse them.

Human Rights Watch charges that Liu Quanxi, who headed Henan Health Department, ran the region's blood business during the 1990s. He was promoted in February to be deputy director of the Chinese Communist Party's health committee. Chen Kaiyuan, who headed up the Henan Communist Party and blocked all media access to the AIDS-plagued villages, arresting locals who gave information to foreign reporters, was recently named president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Persecuting HIV-positive protesters is doubly outrageous given that the state was complicit in their infection in the first place," charges Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

All of this comes against a dramatically different background of political and legal action taken to deal with SARS. Though the Chinese leadership initially tried to cover up the SARS epidemic, once "openness" became the watchword, hundreds of officials lost jobs or faced demotions for blocking dissemination of accurate information. President Hu Jintao instructed that all SARS treatment was supposed to be free, and discrimination against SARS sufferers was declared illegal.

Even as Chinese scientists search for the source of the SARS virus in a well-funded national campaign, HIV research occupies low prestige, and some HIV labs have switched to SARS work. And Beijing officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the HIV/AIDS work force of China, a nation of 1.3 billion, is only 200.

"I don't think our government will treat AIDS as it did SARS," Wan said. "SARS attacked the capital city and affected political stability. AIDS is chronic, though severe."

Because AIDS is not an acute, immediate killer, Wan continued, it is easier to ignore than SARS. And most AIDS patients in China are poor, politically ignorant peasants who "don't understand the rule of law and human rights."

A skinny Beijing college student named Li Dan discovered just how cut off the Henan villagers were when he visited the region, video camera in hand, three years ago. His film depicting the agony of untreated AIDS prompted concern that peaked in late 2002, when the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency issued a report estimating China has 1.5 million to 3 million HIV-infected. In January, a Center for Strategic and International Studies fact-finding group concluded that within seven years, China could have 20 million HIV-positive citizens.

Li, now a 25-year-old graduate student in astronomy, is risking his freedom and career to fight on behalf of the farmers of HIV-plagued villages across rural China.

"The way this government thinks is, 'If you are poor, so very poor as the farmers are, why should we put money into your treatment and protection? You can't return the investment to society,' " Li said, speaking through a translator.

He says the virus is spreading via the nation's enormous sex trade. Girls and young women have abandoned the poverty of village life in recent years, moving into cities to make better lives for themselves. Most get jobs in "wash houses," where they scrub men's hair and clandestinely provide sexual services.

Published studies show that HIV has spread throughout China, with infection rates soaring among prostitutes and "wash house" girls. But government officials speak of HIV as a problem confined to Henan blood sellers and intravenous drug users in Yunan Province.

"In the long run, we do see that more openness and transparency will be there," regarding HIV in China, insists Dr. Sun Gang, head of the UN AIDS Programme in Beijing. "But we still need more proof of it in the short run."

Here's a link to a New York Times article about the attacks:

and a Time Magazine background article on the subject.

July 21, 2003 / Vol. 162 No. 2

Time Magazine

Rough Treatment

As Beijing goes for a kinder, gentler image, the brutal suppression of People with AIDS in Henan shows the message hasn't yet reached the provinces  


Since taking office in March, China's President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have cultivated an image of baby-cuddling folksiness. Hu's and Wen's breaking of bread with peasants during official outingsÐnot to mention eventually coming clean on SARSÐare seen by some as evidence of the emergence of a new breed of Chinese leader.

But to the residents of AIDS-stricken Wenlou village in central Henan province, China's authorities seem considerably less paternal. As many as 60% of the locals are HIV positive, infected when they sold blood under unsanitary conditions in the 1990s. Most are too poor to afford even basic medicine needed for the host of small infections the virus brings, let alone the costly antiretroviral drugs just now becoming available in Chinese cities. Victims are treated in makeshift infirmaries lacking basic medical gear.

As more villagers are ravaged by full-blown AIDS, they have begun demanding relief from the state. Last month, a handful of Wenlou victims had faith enough in their leaders' benevolence to travel to the provincial capital of Zhengzhou. Their goal was to convince health officials to help them set up organized care for children orphaned by AIDS.

Instead, the supplicants only brought more suffering down on their own heads. When they reached Zhengzhou, several were detained by local police, says a Wenlou resident and AIDS victim who asks to be identified only by his surname, Cheng. Worse, authorities then tried to scare the village's 3,000 residents into silence. On the night of June 22, Cheng says, he and his children awoke to the sound of splitting wood. He says hundreds of police stormed Wenlou, breaking down doors, attacking villagers with cattle prods and dragging some out of their beds and into police cars. The ordeal was repeated the next night, says Cheng. In all, about 100 people were taaken away. "These attacks were so sudden," Cheng says with bewilderment. "All we were trying to do was to answer the question of what will happen to the children when the adults die. Can you really say that's an unreasonable demand?"

This was the third such crackdown in the Wenlou area in just over a month. Although the government is still embarrassed by the AIDS crisis in the province, it's unlikely the raids were ordered by Beijing. Local police "probably acted out of a long-ingrained habit of using any means possible to suppress information," says Hu Jia, a Beijing-based AIDS activist. That's not explanation enough for Cheng. "I have two small children," he says. "How am I supposed to make them understand why this is happening?"


Amsterdam, July 24, 2003 - Networks of people living with HIV/AIDS demand China implement a sound and humane approach to the epidemic. According to UNAIDS 1.5 million people in China are HIV+, and the number could reach 10 million by 2010.

In the 1980s and 1990s Chinese farmers sold blood in unsanitary blood stations to supplement their incomes, and many are thought to have contracted HIV as a result. There are some signs the Chinese government has an interest in working toward improving access to treatment for HIV/AIDS. Nevertheless, the highly publicized events in the village of Xionggiao in Henan province are another red flag the approach to HIV/AIDS in China remains unacceptable. On June 22nd, 500 to 600 police officers and hired thugs beat farmers, attacked their homes, and arrested perhaps as many as sixteen people in a suspected act of retribution for a confrontation between farmers and local authorities some days earlier. Villagers were fighting to receive their meager monthly government allowance for AIDS patients and other promised financial assistance; 700 of the 3,000 Xionggiao residents are HIV positive, and 400 have AIDS.

According to reports, confrontations between farmers and local authorities over medicine and financial relief have been regular occurrences in various Chinese villages where HIV/AIDS has had a heavy impact. In an incident in May, police prevented villagers from having access to visiting World Health Organization officials. Other gross mishandlings of the HIV epidemic include the firing of Dr. Wan Yanhai from his post at the Ministry of Health for speaking about sexual minorities and HIV transmission risk, and his subsequent arrest in August 2002. Dr. Wan had been accused of "revealing state secrets" for rendering public a government research report on the aforementioned faulty blood collection practices. According to Agence France Presse, he was released with a warning about a month after his arrest, in exchange for confession to his crime, a written apology, and agreement to cooperate with the police.

The Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+) and its affiliated group, the Asia/Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+), warn that while aggression toward people living with HIV/AIDS is clearly inhumane it is also unsound public health policy: It drives the epidemic further underground by creating fear and reinforcing stigma and discrimination, and thus fuels spread of HIV. "China's approach to HIV/AIDS at all levels must go hand-in-hand with preserving human rights. A paradigm shift is needed. China must place care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS and fighting stigma and discrimination at the core of its response.", emphasized APN+ Board member and activist, Ms. Chia.

Mr. Stuart Flavell,  International Coordinator
Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+)
+31.(0)20.423.4114 (Tel)   +31.(0)20.423.4224 (Fax)   E-mail:

Agence France Presse

July 28, 2003

Several villagers detained in China AIDS raid formally arrested

BEIJING, Several villagers arrested in a controversial night raid in central China's AIDS-ridden Henan province have been formally arrested, while others have been freed, villagers and police said Monday.

"Some of these people have been formally arrested. Some have been released," an official at the Shangcai county detention center told AFP, refusing to give further details.

The villagers were among about 13 people taken into custody during the raid on June 22, where some 500 police officers and their hired help stormed Xiongqiao village, beating people and smashing property after the AIDS-suffering farmers repeatedly demanded government help. "They released seven to eight people in the last three to five days," said a man in the village who declined to be named. "The government can't pin anything on them. All they did was appeal for government help.

"There are still seven to eight people in jail."

It was unclear whether those still held have been charged. Police previously told AFP they faced charges of robbery and attacking government offices.

The wife of one said family members had been given no access to the detained and police had not released any information about what charges they faced.

"If they would just let us see them, we wouldn't be so worried," said the woman, whose 30-year-old husband is HIV positive.

She and the other villager said several of the arrested were either HIV positive or have AIDS. "Someone in the police station said my husband has had a fever for 20 days. There's a doctor in jail, but we hope they will quickly release him so he can be properly treated," the woman said.

The remaining people are believed to be held because police consider them organizers. The raid -- one of the toughest actions taken against the many farmers in China infected with HIV from selling blood -- sparked criticisms from overseas AIDS and human rights groups. China's cabinet, the State Council, released a response from the Henan provincial government to AFP last week.

In it, the government said the raid was carried out after farmers damaged property in local government offices during two protests on June 11 and 12.

They said the farmers were protesting because police had detained a man and a woman who were trying to cheat the authorities to get government subsidies for HIV/AIDS sufferers. Farmers, however, denied this, saying they were instead demanding local authorities build a much-needed clinic in their village.

Despite the recent releases, the night raid has frightened many villagers, some of whom are avoiding going home.

"People are afraid. No one dares to appeal or speak out. The action the police took on June 22 was serious," the man said.

Henan admitted "a few" people were injured. Villagers said about 20 were clubbed, some badly.

Agence France Presse

August 5, 2003 Tuesday

US scholars pressure China to review way it deals with AIDS


BEIJING, Aug 5, 2003

A group of top US scholars have sent an open letter to Premier Wen Jiabao criticising the way China is handling its looming AIDS crisis, as international pressure builds for change. The 41 signatories, working with New York-based China AIDS Solidarity Network, slammed China for beating and arresting HIV-sufferers after they had asked for better treatment. China is shooting itself in the foot by detaining people advocating improved policies on dealing with AIDS, said the letter, signed by academics from prestigious centers of learning, such as the Harvard Medical School. "The harassment of people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates diminishes China's ability to halt its AIDS epidemic, which is advancing rapidly and threatens to rival the epidemics in Africa and India in the near future," it said.

The letter came in response to the arrest of several residents of Xiongqiao village in central China's Henan province after they had demanded the establishment of a hospital. In an incident first reported by AFP, local authorities reacted violently, sending more than 500 police officers and other club-wielding men to the village, smashing TV sets and windows and beating up residents.

Of the 13 farmers who were arrested in the attack, seven remain in custody more than a month later, including five HIV sufferers, according to the open letter.

The incident is the most extreme known case of a police crackdown on farmers demanding more government help after being devastated by an AIDS outbreak.

"It is outrageous that people with AIDS are being beaten and jailed for asking for medical care," said Mark Milano, a spokesman for the New York-based solidarity network. Xiongqiao is just one of a large number of Henan villages where farmers contracted the HIV virus after they sold blood at unsanitary government-approved blood stations beginning in the mid-1980s.

According to United Nations estimates from last year, China had up to 1.5 million HIV carriers, but many experts are worried that the real figure could already be much higher. The New York solidarity network said as many as two million villagers in Henan alone contracted the virus by selling their blood.

The open letter to Wen comes after severe criticism of China's policies on AIDS from several rights groups.

Last month, London-based rights group Amnesty International expressed concerns over the Henan beatings and urged a full and public report on how the people contracted the disease. New York-based Human Rights Watch said incidents like detention indicated there was a toughening of approach even as China actively sought international funding to fight AIDS. China has also been under increasing global pressure to deal more effectively with its AIDS crisis or face disaster.

In October, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned China that it "stands on the brink of an explosive AIDS epidemic" and must act immediately to halt the potential catastrophe.

UN officials have also warned that under current trends, and in the absence of effective counter-measures, China could have 10 million people with HIV by the year 2010, giving it the largest population with the virus in the world.

ph/mp/rcw    China-US-health-AIDS

China blasted over AIDS spread
Wednesday, September 3, 2003 World

•Human Rights Watch report  

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- The spread of AIDS in China is running largely unchecked with patients denied treatment and authorities not dealing with a blood collection scandal that led to millions of HIV infections, a leading human rights group says.

Discriminatory laws as well as restrictions on freedom of speech had attributed to a growing crisis that China says has affected one million people in the country with HIV/AIDS, the New York-based Human Rights Watch charged in a 94-page report released on Wednesday.

The report -- based on dozens of interviews with HIV/AIDS sufferers as well as police, drug users, and AIDS workers in Beijing, Hong Kong and Yunnan province -- said the government was tolerating the social discrimination of sufferers.

"Some flee from place to place with the constant threat of exposure as 'carriers' of the 'plague'," the report said.

Citing Chinese government documents, Human Rights Watch also said the number of people infected with the virus was far higher than the government admitted with a blood-selling scandal in the mid-1980s largely to blame.

Beijing continued to cover up "one of the world's greatest HIV/AIDS scandals," Human Rights Watch argued, adding that an impartial probe was needed.

During the mid-1980s, entire villages in several Chinese provinces contracted HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- because of unsanitary blood collections.

Human Rights Watch said the government documents showed infection rates among blood donors ranged from four to 40 percent across seven provinces. The combined total population of the regions is 420 million.

In Henan province alone, some activists argue more than 1 million sufferers contracted HIV from an unsanitary government-sponsored blood-for-money program.
The outbreak first came to light last decade, and the Chinese central government has acknowledged the problem in 2001 but has provided little detail on the extent of the outbreak.

In August 2002, China said an estimated 1 million Chinese were carrying the virus but has not revealed how many infections resulted from the blood-for-money program.

"It is time for China to confront the blood collection scandal," Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said.

"Beijing should authorize a full and impartial investigation into the involvement of local authorities in the blood scandal and hold those responsible accountable."

The Human Rights Watch report made sweeping recommendations for China in dealing with the spread of the virus.

Though Beijing has recently issued positive policy statements about HIV/AIDS that included education and prevention projects as well as the non-discrimination of patients, the report said more needed to be done.

Among the recommendations was the nationwide training of health workers, legislations to prevent discrimination against sufferers and an end to the arbitrary detention of drug users in forced treatment centers.

Many HIV sufferers have little or no access to health care and discrimination of HIV sufferers was widespread, the report said. Rather than combating it, the government tolerates such attitudes, it added.

This then further spreads the epidemic by driving those carrying HIV/AIDS underground instead of helping them, the report said.

Some local laws even prevented HIV-AIDS patients from using swimming pools or working in the food industry, the report found.

"Discrimination is forcing many people to live as outcasts, and the Chinese government tolerates it instead of combating it," Adams said.

"This is sure to make the AIDS crisis worse."

The Human Rights Watch report said that China's successful campaign to eradicate the SARS virus had shown Beijing has the capacity to combat AIDS.


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The Human Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS in China