March 17, 2006

Chinese AIDS activists call for release of colleague

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese AIDS activists on Friday called for the release of fellow rights worker Hu Jia, who vanished a month ago, while his wife said she still had no idea where he was and was becoming increasingly worried.

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

His wife, Zeng Jinyan, told Reuters that she had been to the prosecutor's office to try and lodge a complaint that the police were holding her husband illegally.

"They told me to go to the police myself to try and sort out this problem," Zeng said by telephone, having just left the prosecutor's office.

"They asked me why he was being held but I myself have no idea. It's totally laughable."

A group of AIDS activists issued a statement calling for Hu's immediate release -- if indeed he was being held by the police -- adding that he may be in poor shape if he has not been getting the hepatitis medication he needs.

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

The hunger strike began after rights campaigner Yang Maodong was assaulted by thugs, whom his supporters say were hired by the government, in the southern province of Guangdong on February 5.

Yang announced plans to protest against the beating through a hunger strike outside Zhongnanhai, the tightly guarded Chinese leadership compound in Beijing.

He was held for more than three months late last year for trying to help residents of a Guangdong village to vote out their elected chief over allegations of corruption in a land dispute.

Yang sent a cell phone text message on Friday saying he has been taken by plainclothes agents to Nanchang, capital of the southern province of Jiangxi, and prevented from leaving the country.

The ruling Communist Party has been tightening its grip on power and intensifying crackdowns on rights campaigners, lawyers, journalists and academics.