BEIJING – About 300 AIDS patients and their relatives tore down the main gate of a government office in central China during a protest Monday over unmet demands for financial assistance.
Protester Li Xia said police in Zhengzhou city beat some of the patients with batons after the group gathered outside the Henan provincial government office and blocked the main gate to demand a meeting with officials. She said one protester was dragged into the government building by police.
"We want the government to give us some help," said Li, who like many of the protesters was infected with HIV when she sold blood in 1995. Tens of thousands of people contracted the virus that causes AIDS in a blood-selling scandal in Henan in the 1990s that is widely seen as a failure of government leadership.
Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or anything else, extracted the valuable plasma then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it. Officials covered up the problem for years, which allowed HIV to spread when people were unknowingly infected from tainted transfusions at hospitals.
Activists say that local courts reject lawsuits for compensation, leaving the victims of the scandal with few avenues to seek redress. The patients and their families stage regular protests outside health bureaus and government buildings.
The group that protested on Monday had been told in April by an official from the local civil affairs department that the government would respond to their request for help in two months, but had been repeatedly put off since.
"We had been waiting outside here for so long, and it was raining, but no one cared," said Gao Yanping, another protester. "Now they are asking us to wait another 2 months? We cannot control our anger anymore."
Officials at the Zhengzhou city government propaganda office and the city's police bureau refused to comment. A woman who answered the phone at the Henan provincial government office denied that there had been a protest.
After ignoring or demonizing people with AIDS for much of the 1980s and 1990s, China's authoritarian government has taken a more compassionate line on the disease and combating its spread in recent years. But people with AIDS still face difficulties in getting treatment and compensation, and authorities remain deeply suspicious of independent activists.
Associated Press researcher Flora Ji contributed to this report.