International
Zeng Jinyan / AP

China sex-worker advocate ‘blocked’ from travel amid US talks

Meanwhile, another dissident says he was beaten by plainclothes police in Beijing

A prominent Chinese advocate for sex workers alleged Wednesday that she was barred from leaving China as high-level talks between U.S. and Chinese officials came to a close in Beijing this week.

Ye Haiyan, based in the central province of Hubei, became internationally known when she orchestrated a campaign against Hainan province officials whom she and others accused of covering up a sex-abuse scandal involving multiple schoolchildren. As part of the protest, Ye posted a naked picture of herself online along with the words: “Get a room with me — leave the schoolkids alone.”

Ye said she submitted her passport to emigration authorities on June 24 with an application for an exit permit to travel to Melbourne, Australia, for the 20th International AIDS Conference, which starts July 20.

The permit typically takes about three days to obtain. But Ye said authorities told her they had already returned her passport via mail, and that it may have been lost. This is often the way the Chinese government prevents dissidents from leaving the country, she said.

“And now they won’t return my calls. That means there are forces behind the scenes that won’t let me go,” she said. “I’m trapped in this country.”

Ye has already missed her flight.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not immediately available for comment.

Ye said the government decision to block her leaving was part of a larger crackdown on dissidents during the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual meeting of top-level diplomats. On Tuesday, diplomats from both nations met to discuss collaborations on what they called "counterterrorism" measures, amid efforts by Beijing to combat what it has said are ethnic Uighur armed groups from the western province of Xinjiang. 

In recent weeks, another prominent Chinese HIV/AIDS rights advocate, Hu Jia, mounted a campaign on social media to have U.S. officials, like Secretary of State John Kerry, speak to their Chinese counterparts about Hu's ongoing house arrest, now in its fifth month.

On Wednesday, Hu said on Twitter that he had been beaten by plainclothes police not far from Beijing’s Chaoyang embassy district. His tweet was accompanied by a photo of what appeared to be blood streaming from his face.

“When we criticize the Chinese government, they think we must support or be supported by America. That’s ridiculous,” Ye said.

“We also oppose a lot of human rights issues in the United States.”

Hu and Ye are both advocates for HIV/AIDS awareness and medical rights under the new administration of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who took office in 2013. During his time as Henan’s party chief, he oversaw the covering up of an HIV/AIDS epidemic in impoverished areas, where people routinely sold their blood for money. Li infamously barred NGOs and medical practitioners from reaching victims to address the epidemic.

Ye’s alleged travel restriction comes amid a slew of measures to ban sex work across the country, and in particular in the nation’s south, what has been hailed as part of President Xi Jinping’s bid to uproot corruption in the public and private sector.

The campaign has already nabbed well over 1,000 suspects in Guangdong province — an area that has traditionally been an epicenter of the Chinese sex trade. Last month the campaign penetrated people’s smartphones, reportedly shutting down 20 million “prostitution-related accounts” on the popular instant messaging service WeChat.

“It’s ridiculous for the [federal] government to be so closely monitoring the machinations of the country’s sex industry,” Ye said, explaining that it was normally a matter for local law enforcement.

Authorities have stopped her from meeting with sex workers and providing them with sexual health education.

The crackdown, she said, has pushed the sex industry “further underground, into even more dangerous situations.”

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