China should stop
harassing AIDS activists, a U.S.-based human rights
group said Wednesday as it warned that Beijing's
heavy-handed methods of controlling information about
the disease could hinder efforts to stop its spread.
In a 57-page report, Human Rights Watch called on China to
remove restrictions on private groups that work with AIDS
patients and at-risk groups.
"Grassroots organizations have direct experience
that could greatly strengthen the country's fight
against AIDS," said Sara Davis, the group's China
researcher, in a statement. "But in a number of
regions, they face harassment, censorship, and even beatings
because the Chinese government is suspicious of any
activity outside its direct control."
Separately, the United Nations' top HIV/AIDS
official, Peter Piot, also called on Beijing to work
more with patients at the grassroots level. "If China
is going to be successful in the fight against AIDS, it
needs not only the strong leadership...but also involving
people living with HIV in these activities at a
community level, and there we still have a way to go,"
he said. Piot met this week with Chinese premier Wen
Jiabao and toured treatment centers in the country's south.
Human Rights Watch said that despite the central
government's vows to fight AIDS, many local officials
fear that public discussion of the disease will
embarrass them or discourage investment. In Henan province,
where thousands of people were infected with HIV in the
1990s by an unsanitary blood-buying scheme, activists
have complained of inadequate services for patients
and of corruption in administering programs, the group said.
"Instead of addressing these criticisms, Henan
officials have detained those activists who complained
too loudly or who took matters into their own hands,"
the group said. "Dozens of activists have been jailed,
and some have even been beaten by thugs hired by local officials."
The group said China's Internet restrictions are
interfering with the flow of AIDS information to
high-risk groups such as gay men. "China's laws
on pornography say that any Web site with homosexual
content is automatically considered to be obscene," Davis
said. "That's not only discriminatory; in the context
of the AIDS epidemic, it is self-destructive."
China says 840,000 people in the country are
HIV-positive and 80,000 have developed AIDS. The U.N.
has warned that 10 million people could be infected in
China by 2010 without better prevention methods. Currently,
AIDS in China is limited mostly to certain groups--sex
workers, intravenous-drug users, and victims of the
blood-buying scheme--and the U.N. has warned
repeatedly that it risks being spread quickly to the
general population. "Time is running out," Piot said. "Now
is the time for initiating large-scale programs. The
time of pilots is over."
Wen told U.N. officials that China is up to the
task of controlling the disease, citing plans to
expand free medical service to AIDS patients and
increase public education about how the disease is spread,
state media reported. (AP)