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News Update



The month-long detention of China’s most well-known AIDS activist, Wan Yanhai, served only to highlight the priority given to secrecy over dealing with the growing epidemic of HIV and AIDS in some provinces.

Wan, 38, disappeared on August 24, 2002, after leaving a Beijing café that was showing a gay and lesbian film screening. Wan’s colleague at the Aizhi Action Project, Liang Yan, was informed on September 4 by an official from the Ministry of State Security, that Wan was under investigation for leaking “state secrets.” Wan had posted on the Aizhi Web site an internal (neibu) document issued by the Henan Province Department of Health that showed that the local government had known since 1995 that HIV was spreading through the widespread practice of blood selling. Despite the efforts of the local government to suppress the information, Wan’s group had been instrumental in exposing the plight of poor farmers in Henan infected with HIV and AIDS through selling their blood to collection stations that were often run by government agencies.

The detention of Wan caused an international outcry that eventually forced the government to back down and let him go. Following his release on September 23, Wan said he had confessed to posting the document on his site, and said that he had not understood enough about government secrecy laws. In fact, the law does not provide for prosecution of people who release information that is only in the neibu category. (HRIC, WP)

The decision to release Wan undoubtedly had something to do with the linkage that was being made between China’s attitude towards NGO activists and its application for a $90 million grant from the Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. A previous application to the Fund had been rejected because of the government’s resistance to beginning comprehensive popular education about the disease.

The United Nations highlighted the urgency of the health crisis facing China in a study entitled, HIV/AIDS: China’s Titanic Peril, released at the end of June, which predicted that ten million people in China could be infected with AIDS by the end of the decade. Chinese health officials initially rejected the criticism in the 89-page report, which stated that the country is “on the verge of a catastrophe that could result in unimaginable suffering, economic loss and social devastation.” The study estimated that the number of HIV infected people was already between 800,000 and 1.5 million last year. According to the UN report, the most frequent modes of transmission are contaminated needles and illegal blood sales, but the spread of HIV through heterosexual and homosexual intercourse was gaining momentum. The report described widespread ignorance of the disease and discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS. Experts believe that increased education could help remove the stigma of infection so that more people would seek testing and treatment. (AP, BBC, Reuters, WP)

A survey of 7,000 people between the ages of 15 and 50 conducted by China’s State Family Planning Commission in collaboration with the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) released on July 7 confirmed the urgent need for HIV/AIDS education. The results indicated that one in six people had never heard of the disease. Moreover, of those that had heard of AIDS, almost three-quarters did not know its cause and almost 90 percent did not know how it could be detected. The researchers stated that they lacked a “sense of risk of infection and an awareness of self-protection. Widespread information and education efforts are urgently needed.” (Muzi, WP)


Former policeman Li Dawei, 40, arrested last April and brought to trial in May, was sentenced to on July 24 to 11 years in prison on charges of using the Internet to subvert the PRC government, according to an official at Tianshui Intermediate People’s Court, Gansu Province. Li was accused of downloading 500 “counterrevolutionary” essays from the Web, storing them on a computer, printing them out into 10 books and distributing them to his contacts via e-mails and letters, according to ICHRD. Li's lawyer Dou Peixin said the Gansu Provincial Higher People's Court has accepted an appeal from Li, but has not set a hearing date. (AP, Reuters)


  • On May 3, the Beijing police detained Zhang Jianzhong, one of China’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers and the head of a committee to protect lawyers’ rights set up by the Beijing Lawyers Association. He was held incommunicado for a month, and was not allowed to consult his own defense lawyer Shen Zhigeng for some time. According to Shen, Zhang was arrested in relation to a bank fraud case, and said that Zhang had told him “he did not fabricate testimony and believes the legal system will grant him justice.” (CND, FEER, NYT)

  • On August 1, a spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said her government was investigating the disappearance of three Chinese exiled democracy activists. According to the US-based Free China Movement, Wang Bingzhang, 54, Yue Wu, 54, and Zhang Qi, all dissidents based in the United States and Europe, entered Vietnam from Cambodia on June 16 to meet Chinese labor leaders and were caught by Chinese authorities near the Sino-Vietnamese border on June 26. China's Foreign Ministry has denied any knowledge of the case. (AP, Reuters)

  • On June 5, after spending two days under arrest, Canadian journalist Jiang Xueqin, who had been working on a US Public Broadcasting System documentary, was deported for trying to film laid-off workers’ protests in the northeast. Jiang entered China on a tourist visa and according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, engaged in activities not in conformity with his status and violated Chinese law. (AP, FEER)

  • On July 19, a Roman Catholic nun identified as Sister Chen Mei,/b>, 28, was detained for teaching a religious class for children in a private home, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a US-based advocacy group. A member of the Catholic Church, Sister Chen is being held at the Liangjiang County Detention Center in Fujian Province. Twenty-six students under 18 years old and four other people were also detained, but all were released a day later. A spokesman at the detention center said around 30 people had been detained on July 19 in relation to underground religious activity, but refused to disclose any details. (AP)

  • In late July, 40 people were detained after they petitioned the Qingdao city government on behalf of 1,119 people moved from the Three Gorges Dam area who were resettled in the eastern port city, the ICHRD reported. They had been petitioning to be sent home to the area they were from, citing high food prices, a shortage of farming equipment and difficulties understanding the Shandong Province dialect. When Reuters contacted the city government, the official denied all knowledge of such an incident. (Reuters)

  • Tibetan sources said that police detained five Tibetan monks from Drepung monastery in Lhasa at the end of July. Three of the monks, all of whom are in their 20s, are in custody for listening to cassettes of independence songs and two for trying to raise a Tibetan flag. They were detained shortly before the annual Shoton Festival when a giant cloth painting of the Buddha is unfurled before tens of thousands of pilgrims. Local police officials denied knowledge of the detentions. (Reuters)


A nationwide campaign to shut down 150,000 unlicensed Internet cafés by the end of August, prosecute all operators of unlicensed cafés and owners of buildings housing them and ban the establishment of any new cafés began after two boys identified only as, Zhang, 13, and Song, 14, set fire on June 16 to an Internet café in Beijing called Lanjisu (Blue Hyperspeed). Because the exits from the illegal café were locked, the fire killed 25 and injured 12, according to state media. Only 46,000 of an estimated total of 200,000 Internet cafés are legal, and all are now required to re-register by October 1. Critics assert that the underground cafés operate behind locked doors due to the government’s tight controls on the Internet and the high cost of compliance with regulations. (AP, CND, DPA, NYT, Reuters, SCMP, WSJ)

On August 1 the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) and the State Press and Publications Administration issued a new set of regulations to tighten control of political, social and youth-oriented Internet content, according to officials. The Temporary Regulation on the Management of Internet Publication requires that any content related to state security, social stability or “other major topics” be submitted for official approval before publication. Youth-oriented material must avoid “harmful content” such as horror, cruelty or topics that could encourage young people to commit crimes or “imitate behavior that could violate social ethics,” China News Service said. The regulations require all online publishers to operate an editorial system to censor content and “guarantee the legality” of published material. Under the regulations, all individuals and units publishing original content on Web sites must re-register within 60 days. (DPA)

Condemnation of the new Internet regulations came from various quarters, including CPJ, HRW and a group of 18 Chinese dissidents and intellectuals. The self-censorship pledge entitled “Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry” also came in for criticism. This was signed in March by over 600 Web publishers and Internet service providers, including Yahoo!’s Chinese language site. In a July 30 letter to Yahoo!’s CEO Terry Semel, HRW criticized the company’s decision to sign. HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said, “Yahoo! will switch from being an information gateway to an information gatekeeper.” Yahoo! responded on August 13 stating, “The restrictions on content contained in the pledge impose no greater obligation than already exists in laws in China.” (AFP, HRIC, HRW, Reuters, NYT)

At the end of August, it transpired that the government was blocking search engine Google, a site that is popular among many of the 45 million Internet users official sources estimate there now are in China. Attempts to reach Google ended up with users being rerouted to Chinese search engines. After significant protest from within China, particularly from academics, access to Google was restored, but searches including sensitive key words were blocked. Search engine AltaVista was also found to be blocked. (Reuters, SCMP)


The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) adopted a plan on August 26 to send a team of psychiatrists to visit mental hospitals in China to investigate reports that opponents of the PRC government and Falungong members were being incarcerated in them for political reasons. The move followed the release on August 12 of a 298-page report by Human Rights Watch and the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry entitled Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and Its Origins in the Mao Era.

In the report, the two organizations compare the treatment of dissidents in mental asylums in China to similar abuses in the former Soviet Union. They issued a statement calling for the end of “involuntary treatment in custodial mental asylums of dissidents and nonconformists, [who include] Falungong members, independent labor organizers, whistle blowers and individuals who complain about political persecution or official misconduct.” In response, the Chinese government claimed that it had not received a request from the WPA and denied that it sends political dissidents to mental hospitals. (AFP, Reuters, HRW)


On June 26, the UN anti-narcotics day, China executed over 60 people accused of drug-related crimes. According to Xinhua News Agency, Chongqing carried out the largest number of executions, shooting 24 people. The report said most of those executed were found guilty of trafficking in heroin. According to Chinese law, a person caught carrying more than 50 grams of heroin is subject to the death penalty. (AP, SCMP, VOA).


Democracy activist and former urban planning official Fang Jue, 47, completed his four-year prison sentence and was released from Beijing’s Liangxiang Prison on July 22. But because Fang had refused to admit guilt, the police have kept him under intense surveillance and refused to return his identification card, which makes it impossible for him to travel, find employment, or access basic services. In 1998, Fang issued a political platform he said represented the views of the democratic faction in the Chinese Communist Party, calling for political reform, including direct elections at all levels of government, freedom of the press and freedom of association. He was subsequently sentenced to prison on a trumped-up fraud charge. (HRIC)


A serious lack of safety devices, appropriate training, enforcement of regulations and low budgets have resulted in high rates of accidents in the workplace. Citing Wang Xianzheng, head of the State Administration on Work Safety, China Daily reported that a total of 53,302 people have been killed in 447,234 workplace accidents so far this year, with 3,500 dying in mining accidents. The thousands of fatalities have prompted efforts by the central and local authorities to close unlicensed mines and those that fail safety tests. However, many small mines manage to re-open because local governments need tax revenues to subsidize their budgets. (AP, PR News Asia, Reuters, The Age)


On July 26, the police formally arrested the manager of Liaoyang Ferro-Alloy Company Fan Yicheng for dereliction of duty. This was a tacit acknowledgement that the grievances which sparked massive worker protests in the northeastern city of Liaoyang in March had some basis in fact. However, despite Fan’s arrest, four labor leaders from the city who were involved in the protests, Yao Fuxin, 54, Xiao Yunliang, 57, Pang Qingxiang, 58, and Wang Zhaoming, 39, remain in police custody. (AFP)


Not content with suppressing the spiritual group at home, the Chinese government has increasingly been taking its campaign against Falungong to other parts of the world.

  • From June 7 to June 18, in an effort to prevent large demonstrations during a visit to the country by President Jiang Zemin, the Icelandic government attempted to bar Falungong members from visiting the country. Icelandic police officers were sent to cities in the United States and Europe to help Iceland’s state-owned airline, Icelandair, implement a blacklist distributed by the Icelandic government and refuse to allow Falungong members on to their flights. On June 12, 70 suspected Falungong practitioners, aged between 26 and 60 and including Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Australians, German and Danes, were detained at Keflavik airport, but were later released after hundreds of Icelanders arrived at the camp to surrender to police as Falungong supporters. But these efforts to suppress demonstrations backfired, as 500 people gathered in front of the parliament building to protest against the government’s action. This was the largest political demonstration in recent memory on the small North Atlantic island, witnesses said. (AP, Peace 2000 Institute, Reuters)

  • Similar efforts were seen in Hong Kong prior to a visit by Jiang. In the lead up to the fifth anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty, Hong Kong refused entry to 120 Falungong practitioners even though Falungong remains legal in Hong Kong. The group holds regular protests in the territory, but activists say the authorities are less tolerant when Chinese leaders are visiting. (AP)

    Some commentators criticized the Hong Kong government’s decision to prosecute 16 Falungong followers for public obstruction and other offences during a demonstration in March outside of Beijing’s main representative office in Hong Kong. The 16 were convicted and fined in what some activists said was a selective prosecution that boded ill for freedoms in the territory. This case was the first trial in Hong Kong of adherents of the spiritual movement. John Haynes, the defense lawyer, said that the people charged, four of whom were Swiss nationals, “have the right to demonstrate in a public place, including outside China’s main office in Hong Kong.” (ABC Radio Australia News, Reuters)

  • Suppression of news about Falungong has also been a feature of some cases of censorship of international media in China. The June 15 edition of the British magazine The Economist, which featured a cover story entitled “Set China’s Politics Free” by the magazine’s Beijing correspondent James Miles, was banned from mainland news stands by Beijing authorities. The piece asserted that political reform would be necessary if China was to achieve its economic goals, criticized official manipulation of China’s financial markets and made reference to sensitive topics such as Falungong and the 1989 democracy movement. According to Miles, “while articles on China are frequently removed from copies of The Economist before they appear at news stands, it is the first time an entire edition has been banned from distribution.” (SCMP, CND, Reporters Without Borders)

  • On July 4, the authorities suspended BBC World TV broadcasts in China after a program that aired on July 1 mentioned Beijing’s crackdown on Falungong. The program marked the anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, and it showed Falungong followers there protesting against President Jiang during his visit. The suspension was the first since the network was permitted to broadcast to luxury hotels and buildings where foreigners live starting in January 2002. (Reporters Without Borders, Reuters)


  • On July 13, Tibetan teacher Tagna Jigme Zangpo, 74, arrived in the United States to seek medical treatment for his high blood pressure and coronary disease, after spending most of the last 40 years in prison in Tibet for his unswerving commitment to Tibetan independence. He had been released from prison on medical parole in March this year. (TIN)


Since March, over 100 North Koreans have sought asylum in foreign embassies and buildings in Chinese cities, including the embassies of South Korea and Albania, and a German school in Beijing. The PRC government has sent the majority of these refugees to South Korea via third countries, although it has an agreement with its communist ally to repatriate them. (AP, NYT, Reuters, WSJ)

Despite this lenient attitude towards those who have made it into foreign buildings, China has stepped up efforts to detain and repatriate North Korean refugees seeking respite across the border in China. Chinese authorities are now offering bounty payments to people who turn in North Korean escapees.

Some activists who have assisted North Koreans in the border areas have themselves been detained. For example, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman announced the arrest of Choi Bong Il, 54, a US citizen of Korean descent, on July 2, for organizing what the government called "illegal cross-border people-trafficking." Also detained were for helping North Koreans were Chun Ki Won, 46, and John Daniel Choi. Chun, a South Korean pastor, spent eight months in detention without charge in China accused of aiding 12 North Koreans in reaching Mongolia. He was only released on August 5, 2002, from a camp in Hailaer, Inner Mongolia, after he paid a fine of 50,000 yuan. He was deported immediately after his release. Since 1999, Chun had reportedly helped 170 North Korean defectors get to South Korea. (AP, Joong Ang Ibo, Reuters)


Over the last decade, the gap between male and female births has widened, giving China the largest disparity in sex ratio at birth among newborns of any country in the world. In some areas, the ratio reaches 144 boys to 100 girls. According to the 2000 census, the national average was 117 boys to 100 girls, in comparison to the international average of 106 boys to 100 girls. Despite government efforts to outlaw the practice of prenatal sex determination, the ultrasound scans through which the sex of the fetus can be determined are readily available in small town hospitals and maternity clinics. (NYT)


  • On August 14, China and Australia held the sixth round of their annual bilateral human rights dialogue in Canberra. Australian diplomats said the talks focused on the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, freedom in Tibet, the treatment of Falungong members and individual human rights cases.

  • China’s human rights dialogue with Japan has been stalled for two and a half years. The dialogue was started in 1997 when Japan agreed not to cosponsor a resolution on China at the UN Human Rights Commission session that year. Japan has repeatedly asked China to resume the talks, which are supposed to be held once a year. (ABC Radio Australia News, AP, The Japan Times)


In mid-August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson made a last visit to Beijing before she stepped down from her post. She traveled to China to open a workshop for judges and lawyers in Beijing, held as part of the program of technical cooperation between China and her office. Following meetings with a number of government ministers, she expressed concern about “new and worsening” human rights problems, including increased repression in Xinjiang since September 11 and the erosion of rights experienced by many workers. She pressed the government to review the sentences of numerous political prisoners. Robinson offered praise for the willingness of Ministry of Justice officials to discuss human rights issues, but suggested she got less cooperation from other branches of government, particularly the police and security sectors. (NYT, OHCHR)


AFP - Agence France Presse

AP - Associated Press

BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation

CND - China News Digest

CPJ - Committee to Protect Journalists

DPA - Deutsche Press Agentur

FEER - Far Eastern Economic Review

HRIC - Human Rights in China

HRW - Human Rights Watch

ICHRD - Information Center of Human Rights and Democracy

NYT - The New York Times

PRC - People’s Republic of China

OHCHR - Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights

SCMP - South China Morning Post

TIN - Tibet Information Network

VOA - Voice of America

WP - Washington Post

WSJ - Wall Street Journal

Compiled by Amy Tai