THE Cambodian NGO Korsang has called on the UN's joint programme on AIDS and HIV, UNAIDS, to tackle government restrictions on non-governmental organisations in Asia working to address the disease.
Korsang, along with 32 international AIDS NGOs, made the demand in a letter sent ahead of the this year's International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which begins Sunday in Bali, Indonesia.
The letter, signed by Korsang Executive Director Holly Bradford and academics from around the world, called on UNAIDS Director Michael Sidibe to "issue a strong public statement urging governments to lift restrictions on AIDS NGOs and to stop jailing our colleagues in Asia".
"UNAIDS and international donors have kept quiet in public while our colleagues are imprisoned, threatened and beaten," the letter said.
The China-based AIDS NGO Asia Catalyst organised the letter.
Sara Davis, executive director, told the Post it was triggered when an unnamed Chinese AIDS advocate had his passport seized by police to prevent him from travelling to the congress.
"He was told that if he spoke to international organisations or media, he would face the same fate as Hu Jia," Davis said, referring to the Chinese activist and dissident sentenced to three years and six months in jail in April 2008 for inciting state subversion.
The letter also cited the forcible eviction of Korsang by Cambodian police six times in the past five years as evidence of abuses.
The arrest and detention without charge for five days of a Korsang harm-reduction outreach worker in June 2008 was also highlighted.
Bradford said she signed the letter to help call attention to the persecution that many harm-reduction NGOs in Asia face and to improve cooperation between groups.
"If the harm-reduction community doesn't stick together, we're going to get bullied," she said.
"I'd like to see the harm-reduction world work with the police. We need each other."
Bradford is due to speak at an ICAAP satellite session on Monday regarding restrictions on AIDS NGOS in Asia.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRISTOPHER SHAY