China AIDS activist flees to US after harassment

Yanhai`s departure highlights the pressure that non-governmental groups and activists face when operating in China.

Updated: May 10, 2010, 15:10 PM IST

Beijing: A prominent Chinese AIDS activist has fled China for the United States with his wife and four-year-old daughter to escape increasing government harassment of him and his organisation, he said on Monday.

Wan Yanhai`s departure highlights the pressure that non-governmental groups and activists face when operating in China, where the Communist Party leadership remains suspicious of independent groups or individuals as possible threats to their authority.
In March, the government decided to regulate overseas donations to aid groups for the first time, a move that has hurt the funding of organisations like Wan`s Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute.

The restrictions on foreign donations and other intimidation tactics drove Wan and his family to leave China on Thursday on a flight out of Hong Kong, Wan said in a telephone interview, adding that they were now staying with a friend in Philadelphia.

"The attacks from the government had become very serious for my organisation and for me personally," Wan said. "I had concerns about my personal safety and was under a lot of stress."

"When I am in China, the authorities look at me like I am a bird in a cage. They say: `If you don`t listen to me, then I will eat you`," he said. "But after I leave the country, they will see me in a new light because I am no longer in their cage."

In recent years, China`s government has made huge strides in openly addressing the spread of HIV, but the communist leadership is deeply suspicious of independent activists, and Wan has one of the highest profiles among those working on AIDS in China.

Wan, a former Health Ministry official, founded the Aizhixing Institute in 1994 to raise awareness and fight discrimination. Among its most significant and politically sensitive work was the publicising of the spread of AIDS in the 1990s among villagers in central China`s Henan province, where people who sold blood were re-injected with pooled blood after buyers had removed important components.

Wan has been detained or questioned by police several times in the past dozen years for his work, and in recent months he said he has felt increasing pressure from various government departments. The pressure started piling up this year with problems arising from the tax bureau, the state administration for industry and commerce, the central propaganda department and the education bureau.

Bureau Report