New York, September 20, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the release today of the prominent AIDS activist and Web publisher Wan Yanhai, who was detained for nearly a month on suspicion of “leaking state secrets.”
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, as quoted by Agence France-Presse, said that Wan was released after “confessing to his crimes and agreeing to cooperate with police in the investigation.” Xinhua stated that an official from the State Information Office “revealed that Wan had delivered some illegally acquired interior classified documents . . . to overseas individuals, media sources, and Web sites on August 17, 2002.”
Wan, who went missing on August 24, appears to have been targeted for publishing online a government report documenting the spread of AIDS in Henan Province. Although public security agents eventually told Wan’s colleagues in Beijing that he had been detained, the government never officially confirmed his arrest or informed his relatives about his whereabouts.
“We are relieved that Wan has been freed so that he can resume his important work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “However, there should be absolutely no conditions on his release. Wan’s reporting was not a crime, but rather an important public service.”
Wan was released after a vigorous campaign mounted by international organizations including CPJ. Despite his release, China remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists with 35 imprisoned.
Wan today told journalists that he is in good health but did not discuss where he was detained or the terms of his release. “It’s not too convenient for me to say right now,” Wan told The Associated Press. “However, nothing that has happened will affect my work.”
The Web site produced by Wan’s Aizhi (AIDS) Action Project had become one of the best independent sources of information about the HIV-AIDS epidemic in China, publishing reports that could not appear in the tightly controlled domestic press. The site, www.aizhi.org, now hosted on a server outside of China, is still accessible.
Beijing’s attempts to restrict information about the disease has contributed to the catastrophic spread of HIV, which, according to the government’s own estimates, could infect as many as 10 million people in China by the end of the decade.