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Chinese officials
visit AIDS activist blocked from traveling abroad

Chinese officials
visit AIDS activist blocked from traveling abroad

China has praised a prominent AIDS activist just days after she was confined to her home, a move fellow activists said was aimed at preventing her from accepting an award in the United States.

In a Lunar New Year visit to Gao Yaojie's home on Monday, a Communist Party provincial deputy secretary extolled the doctor's ''long-standing contributions to our province's education, health, and AIDS prevention work,'' the Web site of the party's official People's Daily newspaper reported.

The 80-year-old Gao was shown in a photo accepting a parcel from the official, Chen Quanguo, while other leaders from Henan province clapped and smiled.

The scene illustrates China's inconsistent attitude toward whistle-blowers such as Gao, who play a role in uncovering problems but are seen by many officials as a threat to their authority.

Gao is believed to have angered many officials by exposing corrupt blood-selling schemes in Henan that infected thousands with HIV.

Last week, Gao was blocked from leaving her home by plainclothes police, apparently to prevent her from applying for a U.S. visa, her family and fellow AIDS activists said. She is to be honored next month by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by New York Democratic senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Gao has refused government demands that she decline to pick up the award, and one of her daughters said the family was urging her to compromise for the sake of her health.

''It's really not good for Mom to be in a stalemate with the government,'' Guo Jingxian said in a telephone interview. ''I think things will get better following this visit as long as she gives up.''

However, another AIDS activist, Li Dan, said Gao told him by phone that she still insisted on picking up the prize herself because her advancing age might make future trips impossible.

Li suggested Chen's visit may have been an attempt to offset bad publicity surrounding the case, which has been widely reported overseas, although not by China's entirely state-controlled media.

''I think the visit might have been a form of crisis management,'' Li said.

Vital Voices human rights program director Wenchi Yu Perkins said last week the group was talking to contacts in China to ''understand what is happening.'' The awards ceremony is scheduled for March 14 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Although never charged with any crime, Gao has been detained under similar circumstances at least twice before.

In 2001 she was refused a passport to go to Washington to accept an award from a U.N. group, and in 2003 she was prevented from going to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

Gao's activism was deeply embarrassing to provincial officials who had tried to squelch all reporting on the illegal blood-buying schemes. They were assisted in part by a central government that has only recently begun to candidly discuss its AIDS problems.

Gao has distributed medicine and information booklets, cared for AIDS orphans, and hosted those battling AIDS in her modest apartment. (Christopher Bodeen, AP)

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