By GILLIAN WONG, Associated Press
BEIJING -- Beijing police raided a popular outdoor hangout for gay men and took dozens in for questioning over the weekend as part of a security sweep ahead of China's National Day holiday, an activist said Tuesday.
At least 80 gay men were taken away from a park in the capital's Haidian district by police during night raids on Saturday and Sunday, said Guo Ziyang, a project manager with the Beijing Working Group of Gay Movement, a non-governmental group that promotes gay rights.
The men were brought to the police station where they were questioned and asked to show their identity cards, said Guo, who interviewed several of the men. He added that there were rumors that some men were made to take blood tests.
Beijing's Public Security Bureau did not immediately respond to a faxed list of questions.
The Global Times newspaper cited Zi Xiangdong, a spokesman with the bureau, as saying the campaign was part of the city's annual security inspection ahead of the National Day holiday. He did not say what regulations the men who were taken away were suspected of violating, the paper said.
Police officers and SWAT teams swarmed the Mudanyuan Park in about 20 vehicles, the paper said, citing witnesses.
U.S.-based Chinese AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, founder of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute, said his group "strongly condemned" the raid. Wan said in a statement the raid was "extremely rude, violent and lacking in legal basis."
Wan urged police to release all individuals taken away from the park and issue an apology.
Gay rights in China have come a long way since the years just after the 1949 communist revolution when homosexuality was considered a disease from the decadent West and feudal societies, and gay people were persecuted. Sodomy was decriminalized in 1997, and homosexuality was finally removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001.
But homosexuality remains a sensitive topic and gays are frequently discriminated against and ostracized.
Chinese authorities often blanket the country's capital with tight security ahead of special anniversaries such as the Oct. 1 National Day, which is followed by a weeklong holiday.
Last year, ahead of the 60th anniversary of communist rule, Tibet was closed to foreign tourists, submachine gun-toting SWAT units were mixing among crowds in Beijing, activists were rounded up and even kite-flying was banned in the capital. Security was also tightened in 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
China plans to close its border with Kyrgyzstan during the holiday period, said a man surnamed Wang at the Yierkeshitan Port on the border with the Central Asian country, although he did not know when exactly the border would be closed.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.