China denied having the HIV/AIDS problems for years and activists have been taking on the fight alone. But fighting AIDS means exposing a problem of the country so the Chinese authorities often harass the activists. Even when the authorities are now opened about the number of people contracted the disease, activists continue to be the target of intimidation and arbitrary detention.

Late last month, the China’s Ministry of Health reported that 183,733 people contracted HIV and 12,464 people have died of AIDS by the end of October 2006. The Xinhua News Agency released the information along with much higher estimates from WHO and UNAIDS. The Xinhua article also described the specialized clinics set up in Beijing and the promotion of condom use in several provinces. It appears that the Chinese authorities are serious about fighting HIV/AIDS.

Looks is deceiving. Soon after the Xinhua article was published, Wan Yanhai, director of the Aizhixing Institute went missing 2 days before the Institute’s planned symposium. Wan called his workers by phone and instructed them to cancel the event. Three days later, the police released him. Why would the Chinese authorities put up a front about fighting AIDS and then detained an activist for no reason? It seems like the authorities would only recognize their own efforts of tackling the problem and then put up hurdles for those who take on the fight themselves.

Such is the case for Li Dan, a college student who gave up his studies to advocate for those affected by HIV/AIDS. His first major project was a documentary about a village in Henan that had a high rate of infection. The police detained him when they found out about the film. A few months later, the authorities offered to provide medical and financial assistance to the village featured in the film. Li then tried to set up a school for AIDS orphans. His efforts were recognized by the local media but the authorities closed his school anyway. It didn’t stop the rest of the world to pay attention. Li Dan was selected as one of four recipients of the 2006 Reebok Human Rights Award.

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