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Missing Chinese
AIDS activist returns to work

Missing Chinese
AIDS activist returns to work

A prominent Chinese AIDS activist who was organizing a symposium to help people with the disease fight for their legal rights was released Monday in Beijing after being held by police for three days, a colleague said. Wan Yanhai was taken in for questioning by four police officers on Friday and returned to work late Monday morning, said Wang Lixuan, a colleague at the Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute founded by Wan. "All he said was, 'I'm back. The symposium can't take place,'" Wang said. Wan's mobile phone rang unanswered and other employees at the office said he was resting and did not want to be disturbed. Beijing's Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a faxed request for information. Wan has been one of China's most persistent campaigners for AIDS awareness and effective public health policies. He has frequently angered the communist government, which until recent years had ignored the spread of HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. He was fired from a Health Ministry job in 1994 after publicly calling for AIDS education and gay rights. He founded the Aizhixing group later that year and has since been occasionally detained. In 2002 he was placed in detention for two months after he generated publicity about tainted blood transfusions that led to an epidemic of HIV cases in central Henan province. In an e-mail statement, the Aizhixing group said Wan had "resumed work in a normal manner." "Wan Yanhai says that in his future work, he will positively seek the support and understanding of the government and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings," the statement said. The symposium had been scheduled for Sunday. But with police still present on Friday, Wan had ordered colleagues to cancel the event, which was to have focused on AIDS, safe blood transfusions, and legal rights. It was not clear whether the organizers would reschedule the meeting. Wan's colleagues said more than 60 people, some of them AIDS sufferers and their families, had been invited to the event ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1. In a sign that organizers had anticipated possible trouble, they did not publicize the symposium's location but asked participants to get details from the Aizhixing office. HIV gained a foothold in China largely due to tainted blood transfusions in hospitals and schemes to buy blood plasma, where it was collected using unsanitary means. Last week China's Health Ministry reported that the number of reported HIV and AIDS cases rose almost 30% to 183,733 in the first 10 months of this year, from 144,089 cases at the end of last year. Intravenous drug use was the biggest source of infection, the ministry said. Health experts say actual cases are likely to be four to five times the reported figure. After years of denying that AIDS was a problem, Chinese leaders have shifted gears dramatically in recent years, confronting the disease more openly and promising anonymous testing, free treatment for the poor, and a ban on discrimination against people with the virus. (Audra Ang, AP)

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