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Chinese AIDS Activist Disappears in Beijing - 2002-08-29

A Chinese AIDS activist has disappeared in Beijing, after the government banned his awareness-raising group. China has been slow to react to the threat of AIDS, despite rapid growth in the number of Chinese suffering from the disease.

AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was last seen on August 24, at a gay film screening in Beijing.

Human rights groups say plainclothes police had been following Mr. Wan closely since the group he founded, the Aizhi Action Project, was shut down in July.

Lu Siqing, head of the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong, says Mr. Wan was probably detained by Chinese police.

Mr. Lu says Mr. Wan has been detained in the past because of his high-profile efforts to raise awareness about AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the disease. Mr. Lu says the Public Security Ministry had long investigated Mr. Wan's counseling group.

The group, founded in 1994, fights discrimination against people suffering from AIDS and HIV. It also campaigns for human rights for gays and lesbians.

Mr. Wan is a former health official in the Chinese government. Human Rights in China, a rights group in New York, says Mr. Wan played a key role in exposing the connection between blood transfusions and the spread of AIDS and HIV in Henan province in central China.

Chinese media report that 850,000 people are now infected with the HIV virus, and 200,000 people have full-blown AIDS. AIDS and HIV cases in China are increasing by more than 50 percent annually. Health experts say the real number of AIDS cases is likely to be far higher than official estimates.

China is becoming more open about the threat of AIDS, by releasing more statistics and allowing more organizations to conduct research on the disease. But the government does not tolerate organizations formed without official backing, and often subjects members of such groups to questioning and harassment.