Chinese Aids group complains of suppression

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October 19 2006

Chinese authorities have banned a student-led Aids education group in the western region of Xinjiang and subjected its volunteer workers to police harassment, says the group’s leader.

The suppression of Snow Lotus, one of Xinjiang’s best known non-governmental organisations working on Aids, appears to have been ordered by government officials angry at the group’s role in publicising discrimination against people infected with Hepatitis B.

The banning highlights the difficult relationship between NGOs and China’s Communist authorities even in the Aids sector, where Beijing has accepted that non-state groups can play a vital role in limiting the spread of the disease.

Snow Lotus was recently awarded a grant by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help its work educating young people, homosexuals and intravenous drug users on how to avoid HIV infection. However, Chang Kun, Snow Lotus co-ordinator, said police began harassing and interrogating members after the group drew national attention to the plight of 19 Hepatitis B-infected children recently expelled from a local school.

The pupils’ expulsion exposed Xinjiang authorities to widespread criticism since it appears to violate a government ban on discrimination against people infected with Hepatitis B. On Wednesday, the region’s Nongovernmental Organisation Administration issued a formal notice banning Snow Lotus, saying it was not legally registered, according to a copy of the order seen by the FT.

“The Aids problem in China is very severe and we in this group of unpaid volunteers have been willing to put ourselves at risk to work on?the issue,”?said?Mr Chang, a 21-year-old law student at Xinjiang Normal University. “[The ban] is a very great injury to us, and is certainly a loss to Aids work in China,” he said.

Mr Chang said he had been interrogated by police for seven hours and his computer and personal files had been seized. Police in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi and the Nongovernmental Organisation Administration declined to comment.

NGOs operate in a difficult regulatory environment in China. Activists say that registration procedures remain onerous and have largely been frozen by officials concerned about the development of “civil society” groups that might some day challenge the Communist party’s monopoly on power.

Aids NGOs have been given greater freedom to operate, after pressure from international organisations and a growing awareness in the government that they can reach out much more effectively to vulnerable groups.

However, Aids groups say that they remain subject to harassment and interference, and mutual suspicions prompted a bitter dispute in April over elections of non-governmental and patients’ representatives to the China board of the Global Fund.



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