China Will Allow AIDS Activist to Get Award in U.S.

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In central China, an elderly AIDS activist is preparing to travel to the United States to receive an award from an American non-profit group. Until Friday, the 80-year-old retired Dr. Gao Yaojie was under house arrest.

In recent years, China's government has begun facing up to the spread of AIDS, but as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, local officials are often less forthcoming.

Last week, Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party's vice secretary of Henan province, went to pay his Chinese New Year's respects to Dr. Gao. The official Henan Daily newspaper reported that he brought gifts and flowers. He thanked her for her many years of contributions to the fight against AIDS.

Speaking by phone from her apartment, Dr. Gao gave a slightly different account.

"I asked: 'Didn't the police downstairs didn't stop you?' He replied: 'No, what police, there aren't any police,'" Gao says. "He wouldn't admit it."

Gao says that since Feb. 2, she has been confined to her apartment, by as many as 50 policemen.

Their apparent aim was to keep her from traveling to the United States to receive an award from Vital Voices, a non-profit group that works with women leaders. The group's board of directors includes Sen. Hillary Clinton.

China's ambassador to the U.S. informed Senator Clinton that Dr. Gao was too ill to travel. Senator Clinton then wrote letters to China's President Hu Jintao and China's top official in charge of health.

The Clinton letters seem to have helped. On Friday night, Henan Vice Party Secretary Chen Quanguo was back in Gao's apartment, saying the local government would respect her wishes about receiving the award.

Before the good news came, Gao said that perhaps people would learn more about her if she were forbidden from going to the United States to collect her prize. Now, perhaps she can have it both ways.

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