Aids activists call on Henan to release petitioners

Four remain in police detention after invoking premier's name in protest against Henan's failure to help those affected by disease

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 5:04am

Rights groups and Aids activists have appealed to Henan's provincial government for the release of at least four people with HIV/Aids who were detained during a protest by some 300 people affected by the disease in front of the government compound on Monday.

Five petitioners and a cinematographer shooting a documentary about people with HIV/Aids were taken into police custody after the petitioners unfurled a banner appealing to Premier Li Keqiang for help and calling for the province to abide by central government policy and provide funds to help children affected by the disease.

Tens of thousands of farmers and their families contracted HIV while selling blood at government blood-donation centres in the central province in the early and mid-1990s when Li was Henan's governor.

Although Li was not involved in the programme, officials cracked down hard on protests and media reports in a bid to cover up the massive outbreak.

Duan Qingyun , a 25-year-old Aids patient from rural Shangqiu , said he contracted the HIV virus via a blood transfusion when he was about seven and became a full-blown Aids patient several years ago. He can no longer work and makes a living by renting a small piece of land.

"They beat us up even though many of us are actually patients dying of the virus," he said.

Duan was among the six people detained on Monday. He said the petitioners shouted at the entrance of the provincial government compound in Zhengzhou for officials to come out and heed their grievances.

He then saw dozens of police and paramilitary officers with protective suits, helmets and riot shields storm out of the compound and try to disperse the crowd with batons.

Duan said some were beaten up again after they were taken into police custody inside the government building, but he was released several hours later.

Liu Ximei , an Aids activist fighting for the petitioners' release, said the cinematographer, who was later taken to a local police department, was released yesterday with black marks on his face and bruises on his hands and arms. She said the four other petitioners were still in detention.

In an open letter calling for their release and a government apology, Aids advocacy group Aizhixing urged Henan to compensate people with HIV/Aids and provide their families with medical care in accordance with a 2009 policy overseen by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The provincial government did not respond to media inquiries yesterday.

Gao Yanping , an Aids patient from Kaifeng who joined Monday's protest, said she contracted the virus from her husband, who was infected at a government-backed blood centre and died six years ago.

Gao, 37, said her 12-year-old son should be entitled to an allowance of 600 yuan (HK$746) a month, but local governments had held up the funding despite appeals to various departments.

"We only have 700 yuan a month in government subsistence allowance to cover everything from meals to my son's schooling and we could have died without handouts from relatives," she said.