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China: Police Violence Against HIV-Positive Protestors Escalates
Henan Authorities Deepen AIDS Cover-up
(New York, July 9, 2003) - Police in Henan province are increasingly using arbitrary arrests and violence against HIV-positive protestors seeking access to treatment, Human Rights Watch said today.


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"Persecuting HIV-positive protestors is doubly outrageous given that the state was complicit in their infection in the first place. Henan authorities seem to want to sweep their role in the AIDS epidemic under the rug by silencing protestors."

Joanne Csete
Director of the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch


 
"Persecuting HIV-positive protestors is doubly outrageous given that the state was complicit in their infection in the first place," said Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Henan authorities seem to want to sweep their role in the AIDS epidemic under the rug by silencing protestors."

In the 1990s, millions of villagers in Henan and other central provinces were infected with HIV through government-managed blood collection centers. Officials were motivated by the high profits available from the international blood products industry; for villagers, the sale of their blood was a much-needed source of income.

Demonstrators have called for access to antiretroviral treatment and care for people with HIV/AIDS, and decried the misappropriation of state AIDS funding. Government health officials responded to earlier protests by HIV-positive villagers with promises of aid. But violence and arbitrary arrest have been the response in more recent incidents:

On May 17, 100 AIDS patients used the World Health Organization's (WHO) investigation of SARS in a Wenlou village hospital to protest discrimination against HIV-positive patients in access to care. They were blocked 100 meters away from the hospital by officials. Yang Nidan, who protested the police treatment of demonstrators, was severely beaten by police, according to international media and Chinese AIDS activists.

From June 19 to 22, five HIV-positive residents of Xiongqiao, a village with a high proportion of HIV-positive persons, went to Zhengzhou city to present a petition to the provincial government about the lack of health care services in their village. They were seized and taken back to the village by police, according to Chinese AIDS activists. One detainee was subsequently released because he was seriously ill.

On June 22, hundreds of Henan police officers raided Xiongqiao. They arrested thirteen residents who had allegedly participated in a protest to call for the establishment of a hospital, and indiscriminately beat other residents, according to international media. One of those arrested was subsequently released.

Human Rights Watch called on China's State Council to investigate the Henan blood scandal and the mismanagement of state AIDS funds in the province, and to hold those responsible to account. Human Rights Watch also urged international donors and organizations working on AIDS in China to push Beijing to conduct a thorough investigation of the province's case of massive HIV transmission.

In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly open to international assistance in fighting the AIDS epidemic, and has made moves towards greater transparency about escalating HIV infection rates. In November 2002, China's ambassador to the United Nations asked for international assistance in developing programs to fight the epidemic and committed China to strategies "setting out clear goals and taking measures for prevention and treatment, raising public awareness and strengthening health-care systems, and ensuring monitoring and enforcement."

"The deepening cover-up in Henan province stands in stark contrast to Beijing's calls for international cooperation and its pledges of openness about public health crises," said Csete.