'AIDS demolition team' report roils China netizens

BEIJING - A property developer in China reportedly hired a group of people with HIV to harass residents into leaving their homes, sparking anger from the country's Internet users on Tuesday.

The case is the latest to highlight widespread discrimination in China against people living with HIV and AIDS.

It also underscores the unscrupulous lengths to which some real estate firms and officials will go to evict residents in a country where reselling land can provide big dividends for local governments.

"The obscene tactics of demolition teams emerge in innumerable succession," one user of Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, wrote Tuesday.

"The government departments definitely knew about this, they're just pretending they didn't," wrote another.

According to a report late Monday by state broadcaster China Central Television, a property developer in the central Chinese city of Nanyang hired six people with HIV in an effort to force local residents from a housing compound set for demolition.

Li Gejun, deputy head of the propaganda office in Wolong, a district of Nanyang, told CCTV that the Yi'an Real Estate Company hired the patients "in order to achieve its goal of speedy demolition".

Footage by the broadcaster showed the words "AIDS demolition team" spray-painted in red on many of the compound's walls.

The team also set off firecrackers, harassed residents and shot their windows with slingshots and ball bearings, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Four officials have been reprimanded and five suspects held in connection with the case, Xinhua reported, adding that the housing compound had been "slated for demolition under a government plan".

Forced demolition is a perennial source of discontent in China, where local governments can often earn enormous revenue by evicting people to clear land and then reselling it to developers.

The incident took place in Henan province, which in the 1990s was hit by a debilitating AIDS epidemic that stemmed from a tainted government-backed blood donation programme and infected tens of thousands of people.

It comes on the heels of reports earlier this month that Chinese villagers had targeted an eight-year-old HIV-positive boy for expulsion, drawing widespread condemnation.

Some 200 residents - including the child's own grandfather - signed a petition to expel the boy from their village in the southwestern province of Sichuan to "protect villagers' health".

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS remains an issue at schools, hospitals, workplaces and other establishments across China, a factor that experts say hampers efforts to diagnose and treat it.