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China: Pre-Olympic Repression of AIDS, Orphan Groups

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China just started its pre-Olympic surge of repression of public health and help groups like AIDS activists and those that assist orphans. If China admits to an immense problem with both AIDS and orphans, what does that say about the way China’s communist government deals with these issues.

Because China does not have a free and open press, the government gets away with, well, sometimes murder.

To China’ government, it is often better to hide than to expose problems.

At the end of July China cancelled an AIDS conference. When the Chinese AIDS group asked their local communist party why, they were told, “Authorities informed us that the combination of AIDS, law and foreigners was too sensitive.”

This week, Tim Johnson of the McClatchy Newspapers wrote, “In one case, an activist in Henan province, where the nation’s AIDS crisis hit early, said police ordered him out of his office on Thursday and suggested that he flee the area for his own safety. Six other volunteers in the group were detained.”

“‘They said our organization was illegal and our activities were illegal,’ said Zhu Zhaowu of the China Orchid AIDS Project’s office in Kaifeng in central Henan province.”

This is typical of the kind of harassment dished out when the government of China doesn’t particularly like some group or organization.

“Nothing about it makes any sense,” said Meg Davis , director of Asia Catalyst, a New York -based group and co-sponsor of the canceled Guangzhou legal conference.

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” China is at a crossroads both in terms of its fight against AIDS and its very new and fragile civil society,” Davis said.

Some domestic activists said China’s leaders are clamping down because they worry that international media attention in the run-up to next summer’s Olympic Games will focus on aspects of China that leaders find embarrassing.

“They hope that there will be no unharmonious voices during the Olympics period,” said Hu Jia , an activist and co-founder of a nonprofit Beijing AIDS group.

“If you suppress human rights, what happens is that people vulnerable to HIV are scared to be tested or seek treatment,” said Mark Heywood , founder of South Africa’s AIDS Law project and chairman of the UNAIDS human rights reference group, a body offering advice on the global epidemic.

Heywood, who was to attend the Aug. 3-4 Guangzhou conference, said China “is getting away with paying lip service to how we should deal with AIDS, but on the ground it is doing something completely different.”

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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