According to a report in yesterday’s WaPo, police detained AIDS activist Gao Yaojie at her home on Sunday and prevented the octogenarian doctor from traveling to Beijing to apply for a U.S. visa. Dr. Gao, instrumental in exposing the severity of China’s HIV/AIDS crisis, planned to travel to the U.S. to collect an award from Vital Voices for her work.
Gao, a retired physician, was among the first to expose Henan’s blood scandal in which millions sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run health clinics, making the province the epicenter of China’s AIDS problem.
She wrote and distributed material warning people of the risks of blood-selling, making her a target of local authorities fearful of the social stigma and political sensitivity surrounding AIDS.
The story was told to Reuters by Beijing AIDS activist Hu Jia who claims that Dr. Gao is now under house arrest and that her telephone service has been suspended.
This is the not the first time that Dr. Gao has been prevented from leaving China to receive an award for her work, Chinese authorities also barred her from traveling to award ceremonies in 2001 and 2003.
Beijing’s actions could also come up as an early issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton serves as honorary chair for Vital Voices and her name was reportedly included in the invitation letter to Dr. Gao.
UPDATE via CDT: After the issue was raised by the US Embassy in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu claimed that the ministry had no knowledge of Gao’s detention, according to a Reuters report. Jiang referred questions to the local Zhengzhou government (who is not talking) and reminded reporters that China was: “a country with a system of law and everyone is equal before the law.”
Richard Spencer also has a great post on his meetings with Dr. Gao and the difficulties she has had to endure as the result of her activism.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.