WASHINGTON, May 14--Chinese police detained and questioned an Italian photojournalist and his Chinese interpreter as they prepared to document the poor living conditions of AIDS patients in the central province of Henan, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. The Henan Province Foreign Affairs Office called in award-winning Italian photojournalist Francesco Zizola for questioning at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, Zizola told RFA's Mandarin service in a telephone interview from Beijing. Zizola was interrogated for about four hours and released, along with his Chinese interpreter, on Sunday, he said. Both were back in Beijing on Monday. The interpreter, a Mr. Peng, was detained Friday when he and Zizola went to the home of Dr. Gao Yaojie. Gao, 76, is a retired gynecologist who has become an activist on behalf of villagers who have contracted AIDS through blood transfusions or by selling blood extracted through infected needles. Provincial authorities told Zizola they had detained him for entering China on a tourist rather than a journalist visa, he said. They ordered him to leave China by May 16. "I was not mistreated in detention," Zizola said, although he declined to give details while in China, saying his phone was tapped. Gao, the AIDS activist, told RFA she first became aware her home was under surveillance in late February, "when Time magazine sent a photographer here who stayed about a week." "Any foreigner who wishes to interview me must first notify the Foreign Affairs Office," she added. Of Zizola and Peng's case, Gao said: "They came to see me, but they didn't even get to meet with me, and then they were taken away." Chinese authorities remain tight-lipped regarding the country's worsening AIDS problem. The disease may have become epidemic in several regions of China, according to a report last year by UNAIDS and the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO). The Chinese Government meanwhile announced a 17 percent increase in AIDS cases across the country, saying up to 850,000 people were infected with HIV by the end of 2000. Tens of thousands of rural villagers in Henan are believed to have contracted AIDS after they sold blood to donation centersthat failed to follow proper safety procedures. Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news, information, and cultural programming to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia-giving them a voice as well as a means of connecting with the world and with one another. Created by the U.S. Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.