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Chinese AIDS Activist Honored Despite Ongoing Detention

(Montreal) - Human Rights Watch and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network will honor detained Chinese AIDS activist Dr. Wan Yanhai on September 13 as the first recipient of the two organizations' "Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights." The two groups strongly reiterated their concern over the detention of Dr. Wan by the Chinese government.

The award recognizes Dr. Wan's long-term commitment to combating HIV/AIDS in China and his remarkable campaign to bring public attention to a health and human rights crisis in Henan Province, where hundreds of thousands of rural villagers have been infected through faulty blood collection practices in government-backed clinics. Local Chinese governmental officials are alleged to have been complicit in the scandal. Some foreign journalists attempting to investigate blood collection in Henan have been detained.

"Dr. Wan has been active in bringing to light a public health scandal that Beijing would like to sweep under the rug," said Ralf Jürgens, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "He has taken extraordinary risks to break down the conspiracy of silence around AIDS in China and protect the rights of those infected."

Dr. Wan's wife, Su Zhaosheng, is expected to receive the award on his behalf in Montreal on Friday.

On August 24, 2002, Wan was reported missing by friends and relatives. Police have since indicated to his colleagues that he has been detained for "revealing state secrets," but his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Earlier in August, Wan had anonymously received a "neibu" (secret) AIDS research report on the blood collection scandal in Henan province prepared by government health officials that he then forwarded to an electronic mailing list.

"The report my husband distributed contained little information that had not already been published," said Su Zhaosheng, who currently resides in Los Angeles. "His efforts to ensure people in China have access to up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS shows that he is a thoughtful scholar who cares about his country, about human rights, and about HIV prevention in China. We hope to secure his unconditional release, but we are still trying to confirm where he is being held so that his relatives in Beijing can visit him."

Dr. Wan, 38, is coordinator of the AIZHI (AIDS) Action Project, a nongovernmental organization he founded in 1994 that provides some of the only basic information on HIV/AIDS available to people in China through a widely used web site (www.aizhi.org). As a government official he founded China's first AIDS hotline in 1992. A year later, he was fired from that post for his openness about sexual minorities and their risk of contracting HIV. With support from a variety of private and international sources, he has continued this work and has become the most visible AIDS activist in the country.

"Dr. Wan has led efforts to uncover the blood collection scandal in Henan and combat widespread social prejudice against rural villagers infected with HIV," said Joanne Csete, director of HIV/AIDS Program of Human Rights Watch. "In the face of continued state surveillance, he and his colleagues have visited Henan many times to document the extent of the epidemic, develop recommendations for social action and government assistance, and organize educational programs."

Dr. Wan's group has also arranged to bring HIV-infected villagers to urban centres to give talks at public forums, and has hosted photo exhibits and press conferences in Beijing and other cities to reduce discrimination and show the human face of people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the group has coordinated efforts to assist hundreds of orphans whose parents have died of AIDS.

"The allegation that Dr. Wan has revealed state secrets by publicizing government health research is ridiculous and counterproductive," said Csete. "Any country concerned about the health of its people would make such basic health information public in a second. China has imprisoned a man who is one of its best allies in the fight against a lethal and growing epidemic."

"The Canadian government has long asserted that its policy of expanding trade with China will lead to constructive engagement on human rights issues," said Jürgens. "This is clearly a situation where such engagement is needed, and we are urging the government to contact Chinese authorities to actively pursue the matter of Dr. Wan's detention and the appalling human rights abuses he has brought to light."

The Awards for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights are sponsored by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Human Rights Watch, the International Harm Reduction Development Program, the Hilda Mullen Foundation and Mark Gallop. Additional information about the Awards and about Dr. Wan Yanhai is available online at http://www.aidslaw.ca/Maincontent/awards.htm.

About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) is a national organization engaged in education, legal and ethical analysis, and policy development. Founded in 1992, the Network's promotes responses to HIV/AIDS that respect human rights; facilitate prevention efforts and access to care, treatment and support; minimize the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on individuals and communities; and address the social and economic factors that increase vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and to human rights abuses. The Network is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Its work has received national and international recognition, and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS has included the Network's activities in UNAIDS' collection of "best practices."

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