World News

China AIDS activist detained, accused of subversion

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained a prominent AIDS and human rights campaigner and accused him of subversion, a lawyer friend and a watchdog said on Saturday, in an apparent bid to stifle dissent ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Hu Jia, 34, was taken into police custody on Thursday, attorney Teng Biao said by telephone, adding that Hu’s wife, AIDS activist Zeng Jinyan, has been prevented by police from leaving the couple’s Beijing home.

“Security personnel have been posted outside their home and contact with the outside world has been cut off,” Teng told Reuters. Repeated calls to Hu’s and Zeng’s cell phones and their home phone went unanswered.

“The chances of release are slim,” Teng said without elaborating.

Rights watchdog Chinese Human Rights Defender said in an e-mail that Hu had been arrested on charges of “inciting to subvert the government”.

“As the Olympics nears, the government has a tendency to intensify a crackdown on rights defenders,” the group said, adding that fellow AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was held and questioned by police for 24 hours recently.

It demanded Hu’s immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds. Zeng gave birth to a daughter recently. In May, Hu and his wife, named by Time magazine this year as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, were barred from leaving the country and accused of endangering national security.

Hu’s activism has set him on a collision course with the Communist Party, which has stepped up curbs on non-governmental organisations, the media, the Internet, lawyers, academics and civil rights campaigners to maintain its grip on power.

He has been a thorn in the government’s side and was put under house arrest for 214 days last year. He first came to prominence over his advocacy for AIDS sufferers in rural China.

While under house arrest, Hu followed closely the trials of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and blind civil rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng, e-mailing almost daily updates to foreign reporters.

Gao was given a suspended three-year jail sentence for subversion last December in a rare display of official tolerance, but has disappeared from public view.

Chen, known as a self-taught “barefoot lawyer” for providing legal advice to peasants, was jailed for four years and three months last year after exposing forced late-term abortions and other coercive birth control measures in his home province.

Hu also championed the cause of octogenarian AIDS activist Gao Yaojie, who was barred from leaving for the United States to receive an award until U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and Chinese President Hu Jintao intervened.