China AIDS acivist “missing” after a meeting with the friendly neighborhood security police

One area where I’ve given China more and more credit over the years has been AIDS awareness. One of the very first posts I wrote that received attention from anyone aside from myself was a lengthy critique of China’s (non-)policy on AIDS back in early 2003. But since then I have put up numerous posts on how the situation was improving (though granted, it couldn’t have gotten any worse). So it hurts whenever I see China take big steps backwards on this urgent issue.

A prominent Chinese AIDS activist has gone missing after meeting with police, the activist’s organization said Saturday, in a suspected clampdown ahead of World AIDS Day.

Four police officers showed up at the Beijing offices of Aizhi, an AIDS advocacy group, Friday morning and questioned Wan Yanhai for much of the day, the group said in a statement on its Web site. Around noon, Wan, with police still present, ordered colleagues to cancel a symposium on AIDS, blood safety and legal rights that was scheduled for Sunday, the group said.

He has not been heard from since 6 p.m. when he had a brief mobile phone conversation with a colleague, the statement said.

“The colleague asked Wan Yanhai his whereabouts, and Wan Yanhai replied that he was being questioned. Since then, his colleagues and family have lost contact with Wan Yanhai,” the group said. His mobile phone has been switched off.

Wan has been one of China’s most dogged campaigners for AIDS awareness, frequently angering the communist government, which ignored the spread of the disease until a few years ago, and often drawing harassment from the security forces.

His apparent disappearance comes just days before World AIDS Day on December 1 and highlights the government’s uncomfortable relationship with activists, even on an issue it acknowledges is a problem.

This notion that the best way to deal with “activists” – dangerous people like an AIDS activist and the blind human rights lawyer and Hao Wu – is to lock them up reflects my deepest concerns about China, concerns that I’ve expressed so many times on this blog I often wonder if it’s worth mentioning yet again. But these are flesh and blood people being thrown into prison, so yes, it is worth bringing up again and again. For many years the slogan of AIDS activists has been “Silence equals death.” That applies equally to abuses of power by Chinese officials, and by Bush officials et. al. Somebody has to call them on it. Criticizing the arrest of a decent man trying to raise awareness of a lethal disease that threatens millions of innocent Chinese doesn’t make me a “China hater.” Quite the opposite, I think.

China’s back on my mind again, like never before.

Update: According to this blog (in Chinese) he’s been released. I certainly hope it’s true.

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