March 21, 2006

Mystery Deepens Over Missing Chinese AIDS Activist

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING -- The wife of a Chinese AIDS activist missing for over a month said on Tuesday she was no closer to discovering his whereabouts despite repeated requests to the police and state security apparatus for information.

The 32-year-old Hu Jia went missing after going on a hunger strike with several others to protest what they said was the government's hiring of thugs to beat up civil rights campaigner Yang Maodong in the southern province of Guangdong in February.

"I've worked so hard, but there is still no news," Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, told a news conference in a Beijing hotel room. "I have no idea what to do."

Hu had been under house arrest on and off since January and needed permission from state security agents to even leave his home.

He went on a 24-hour hunger strike on February 6 and was placed under house arrest again on February 11, Zeng said.

Hu has been critical in the past of the government's AIDS policy and for not doing enough to help sufferers and their families.

"We thought he might be released after parliament met, but no," said his wife, adding that Hu had previously been beaten up by plainclothes police.

The government put many rights activists under house arrest or sent them back to their home provinces in the run-up to the annual full session of parliament this month.

"I would be a lot calmer if they just came out and admitted either they have him, or don't have him," she said.

The slightly-built Zeng said she was told by police and state security that they have no information on where Hu is, and no idea what happened on the day he vanished. There was no sign of a struggle at the couple's home that day.

Hu suffers from hepatitis, and attempts to take medicine and clothes to a local police station in the hopes he might be there, have been refused, his wife said.


The prosecutor's office has also refused to accept a formal complaint accusing the police of illegally holding Hu, and the Beijing petitions office has not responded either, his wife said.

Adding to the mystery, a stranger returned Hu's credit card on March 11 but then ran off, Zeng said.

Though there is no obvious state security or police presence at the family residence now, Zeng said her Internet and telephone services were being interrupted.

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry said he had no information on Hu's case, which has attracted the attention of Amnesty International and UNAIDS.

"China is a country ruled by law and Chinese judicial departments dealing with those who breach the law is a matter of China's sovereignty," Qin Gang told a regular news conference when later asked about the continuing arrest of dissidents.

Another person who vanished at the same time as Hu was Qi Zhiyong, whose left leg was amputated after he was hit by a soldier's bullet during the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck)