Chinese AIDS activist still under house arrest despite promise not to visit USA

An elderly Chinese doctor remained under house arrest Thursday, despite promising not to travel to the United States to accept an award for her AIDS activism work that has often embarrassed local authorities.

Gao Yaojie, 80, said three policemen were patrolling her home in central Henan province and had stopped her when she tried to leave Wednesday night.

Gao, who exposed blood-selling schemes that infected thousands with HIV, is to be honored next month by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

She had apparently been detained by authorities at her home to prevent her from applying for a U.S. visa.

Gao said she recently wrote a letter to the Henan Health Bureau indirectly promising that she would not travel to the U.S. to pick up her award, the AP says.

"I said I was tied up with my work. I could not give any other reason," she said in a telephone interview. "If I go, my children who live in China will get in trouble."

She said it was "not convenient" to give any more details because authorities had tapped her phone line, a common method used in China to monitor dissidents.

Gao said telephone service at her home was restored Wednesday after being cut for 10 days.

For Gao it's at least the third such run-in. In 2001, she was refused a passport to go to Washington to accept an award from a U.N. group and in 2003 was prevented from going to the Philippines to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

Gao is one of the country's most tenacious activists. She gained recognition in the late 1990s for her efforts to alert people in Henan to an AIDS outbreak being spread by tainted blood transfusions while the government was tightlipped about its problem with the disease.

She spoke openly to the press and distributed brochures about the spread of AIDS among poor farmers because of the blood-buying industry.

On Monday, China praised Gao's work related to the disease in a public relations move criticized by fellow activists.

The Web site of the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper showed a Lunar New Year visit to Gao's home on Monday by a provincial party deputy secretary, the AP reports.

The official, Chen Quanguo, extolled he "long-standing contributions to our province's education, health and AIDS prevention work." A photo showed Gao accepting a parcel from him while other provincial leaders clapped and smiled.

"They never once said anything about my visit to the United States," Gao said.

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