Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Aids activist flees after pressure

Wan Yanhai a prominent Chinese Aids activist has left China after he was increasingly harassed (AP)

A prominent Chinese Aids activist has left China for the United States with his wife and 4-year-old daughter after authorities increasingly harassed him and his organisation.

Wan Yanhai, founder of the Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute, and his family departed on a flight out of Hong Kong and were staying with a friend in Philadelphia, Wan said in a telephone interview.

Wan said he decided to leave because of mounting mental stress due to the authorities' intimidation of him as well as their move to regulate overseas donations to local groups, complicating efforts to get money from supporters in other countries.

"As an organisation and personally, the attacks from the government had become very serious. I had concerns about my personal safety and was under a lot of stress," Wan said.

"When I am in China, the authorities look at me like I am a bird in a cage. They say: 'If you don't listen to me, then I will eat you'," he said. "But after I leave the country, they will see me in a new light, because I am no longer in their cage."

Despite greater openness in recent years and an acknowledgment that the spread of Aids is accelerating, China's communist leadership is deeply suspicious of independent activists, and Wan has one of the highest profiles among those working on AIDS in China.

Wan founded the Aizhixing Institute in 1994 to raise awareness and fight discrimination.

Among its most significant and politically sensitive work was the publicizing of the spread of AIDS in the 1990s among villagers in central China's Henan province, where people who sold blood were re-injected with pooled blood after buyers had removed important components.

Wan has been detained or questioned several times in the past dozen years for his work, and in recent months he has felt increasing pressure from various government departments.

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