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Chinese AIDS Activist Is Being Detained by Police, Group Says

September 06, 2002|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — A veteran Chinese AIDS activist missing for nearly two weeks is in police custody on suspicion of revealing "state secrets," a human rights group said this week.

Wan Yanhai, a visiting scholar at USC in 1997, has been instrumental in publicizing China's growing AIDS crisis, an issue about which the Communist government remains extremely sensitive.

Although Wan has been active in AIDS work for a decade, he has most recently come under scrutiny by authorities for his role in uncovering details of the thousands of peasants in central China who contracted the disease through the practice of selling blood. Officials have tried to suppress news of the growing epidemic.

Wan, who divides his time between China and Los Angeles, had been missing since Aug. 24 after attending a screening of a gay-themed movie at a Beijing bar. His friends and relatives have had no word of him since and have been pressing police to take action on his disappearance or to disclose his detention.

The New York-based group Human Rights in China said Thursday that a friend of Wan's was informed of his detention by the Ministry of State Security. The group said Wan was being held pending investigation into whether he leaked classified information during the course of his work.

In China, the definition of "state secrets" is broad and can be applied to almost anything--even already-published statistics about the infection rates for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The law regulating such "secrets" is often used by the authorities to clamp down on dissidents.

"I know my husband," Wan's wife, Su Zhaosheng, who lives in Los Angeles, said in a prepared statement released by the rights group. "Wan would not engage in any activity that is harmful to the country and its people."

Wan has earned recognition around the world for his efforts to promote AIDS awareness and prevention. He was due to receive an award in Canada this month for his work.

His case comes at a sensitive time for China on both the domestic and international fronts. In two months, the country is to hold its quinquennial Communist Party congress, at which a major transfer of the leadership is expected to take place. The Beijing regime is always keen to silence dissent before such events and make an outward show of unity.

Also, President Jiang Zemin is scheduled to travel next month to the U.S. to meet with President Bush for a one-day summit at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Wan's case could cast a cloud over that visit. U.S. officials have already brought up his case with the Chinese authorities, as have human rights groups worldwide, such as Amnesty International. Wan, a former public health official, has run afoul of the Chinese government in the past. After starting an AIDS hotline in Beijing and championing gay rights, he was kicked out of his official post by the government in 1994.

Since then, he has continued his work through a Web site and with other like-minded activists.

*

Researcher Anthony Kuhn in Beijing contributed to this report.

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