New York, September 5, 2002–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed today the detention of Web publisher and AIDS activist Wan Yanhai. Wan had been missing since August 24.
Public security agents informed Wan’s colleagues in Beijing that they are holding him on suspicion of “leaking state secrets,” according to Wan’s wife, Su Zhaosheng, who is currently studying in Los Angeles. He has not been formally charged, and authorities have not informed Wan’s friends or family where he is being held.
“Wan’s reporting on AIDS has exposed a major public health crisis that has severe implications for the entire world,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “The government should welcome Wan’s work instead of treating him like a criminal.”
Wan, a former employee of the Ministry of Health, started the AIDS Action Project in 1994 to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in China and support the rights of AIDS patients. Notably, his reporting for the project’s Web site has exposed an AIDS epidemic in Henan Province, where huge numbers of peasants were infected with the virus after selling their blood at government-supported clinics. The United Nations has predicted that 10 million people in China could be infected with HIV during the next eight years.
In July 2002, Beijing authorities closed down the offices of the AIDS Action Project. Since then, several of Wan’s employees have been called in for questioning. The Web site (www.aizhi.org), which is hosted on a server outside China, is still accessible.
Reporting on AIDS is strictly censored in the Chinese press, and Chinese and foreign journalists who investigate the topic have faced harassment or detention. Because of this, Wan Yanhai’s Web site has become one of the only independent sources of information on the epidemic in China.
Wan has also been an outspoken opponent of new Internet regulations, enacted August 1, which require publishers of all China-based Web sites to register with the government and censor their content or risk being shut down. In late July, Wan and 17 others initiated a “Declaration of Internet Citizens’ Rights,” which called for freedom of expression, association, and information on the Internet.