Seeking Justice for HIV-Positive Journalist - press coverage

IRIN (UN Humanitarian News and Analysis) SOUTH AFRICA: Outrage over HIV-positive journalist’s dismissal and deportation (20.02.2012)
JOHANNESBURG, 20 February 2012 (PlusNews) - Allegedly tested for HIV without consent, found positive and subsequently dismissed, detained and deported, a South African journalist is attempting to take his case against Qatar to the International Labour Organization (ILO) to change the country’s HIV travel and employment laws.

More than 100 protestors gathered on 14 Feb outside the Johannesburg offices of Qatari state-owned media company Al-Jazeera to protest the journalist’s alleged dismissal due to his HIV-positive status.

The international news agency has denied allegations that the reporter was removed from his post due to his HIV status, but Section27, a South African human rights organization, has lobbied South Africa’s delegation to the ILO to lodge a complaint against Qatar for its failure to abide by international labour conventions.

Qatar is a signatory to one of the ILO’s eight fundamental conventions, the 1958 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, which requires states to enact legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, nationality, or religious or political beliefs.

The 1958 declaration does not address discrimination based on HIV status, but its preamble references the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which can be interpreted to include HIV, and Section27 attorney Nikki Stein is arguing that the two declarations should be read together.

Stein says the South African Ministry of Labour has agreed, but Section27 has not received a response to its request that South Africa lodge a complaint against Qatar at the ILO.

If South Africa successfully pursues a complaint, the ILO could issue recommendations to bring Qatar in line with international law, and could then try to ensure they were adopted. This could not only remove HIV travel and employment bans but set a precedent for action against other countries with similar bans that are also signatories to the 1958 convention.

Qatar is one of about five countries that deny visas to people living with HIV, and one of about 20 that can legally deport HIV-positive foreigners.

Other countries in the region - United Arab Emirate and Kuwait - which depend on migrant labour, all have laws allowing deportation of any HIV-positive foreigner, according to UNAIDS. The reporter says the experience has driven home the discrimination facing many HIV-positive immigrants in the Middle East.

"You see this sort of thing in movies and you react with disbelief; you see it happen to other people and it still seems unbelievable," the journalist, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Chased off and out

The reporter relocated to Qatar to take up employment with Al-Jazeera in October 2010. Two months later he was sent for medical tests to finalize his Qatari residence permit, which included an HIV test, but was not informed that he was being tested for the virus. The test results were delayed and he tested again at a clinic in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

He alleges that when he returned to collect his results the staff chased him off the premises, and then at a meeting at Al-Jazeera’s headquarters he was allegedly ordered into a car and without explanation driven to Doha Prison, where he was detained for several hours and given a public, full-body search before being released. He claims that an Al-Jazeera employee told him he had been dismissed and should leave the country within 48 hours to avoid arrest.

Al-Jazeera has denied that the reporter’s HIV status was the basis for his dismissal. "Al Jazeera was not privy to his HIV status and at no point was it communicated to the company by either the authorities or by the candidate himself," the news network told IRIN/PlusNews [in an email]. "His HIV status therefore could not have been, and was not, a consideration for us."

The news service has also maintained that although it is an equal opportunity employer, its offices must abide by local labour and immigration laws, and employment is conditional upon meeting the requirements for legally working and living in a country.

"Al Jazeera was informed that the candidate was denied a residence permit and work visa by the Qatari authorities," Al-Jazeera said in a statement. "Without a work visa a candidate may not pursue employment in the country and due to this, Al Jazeera was under the legal obligation to withdraw the conditional offer of employment which was made to the candidate, a risk which the candidate was made aware of and accepted prior to his acceptance of the offer."
No legal recourse

Susan Timberlake, a UNAIDS senior advisor for human rights and law, says people legally residing in a country should be offered the chance to contest deportation, but this is seldom granted to HIV-positive people in countries like Qatar.

"So many of the cases we hear about are handled in a very cruel and inhuman way. Summarily deported, they are not able to take their goods back, they don’t get their last pay cheque, and if they have money in the bank, they lose it," she told IRIN/PlusNews.

"To make matters worse, the reason for their deportation is not kept confidential so... discrimination starts to follow them into their own country," said Timberlake, who added that HIV tests and informing patients of the results is often done without counselling. "It’s one of the most devastating experiences people can go through."

Stein’s client called his deportation one of the most traumatic events in his life. "What Al-Jazeera did to me makes a mockery of their so-called commitment of fair treatment and giving a voice to the voiceless," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

When the law fails

UNAIDS has been calling on countries to end HIV travel and employment bans for years, but countries continue to justify them on economic and public health grounds that Timberlake says are flawed. [link to travel bans story]

International law offers recourse when national laws provide none, but she noted that labour-sending countries, like South Africa, may need to start difficult bilateral negotiations to end bans on their citizens.

"It’s very hard because, from a political point of view, the countries that receive hundreds of thousands of migrants every year call the shots," she said. "The labour-sending countries don’t want to challenge these types of practices because their citizens [and economic opportunities] will be affected."

All Africa: Seeking Justice for HIV-Positive Journalist (09.02.2012)
By Khopotso Bodibe, 9 February 2012

Human rights and civil society groups will picket the Qatari news network, Al Jazeera, next week to call for the reinstatement of a South African journalist who was thrown out of Qatar after it was found that he has HIV.

The case of a South African journalist known only as MR as he wants his identity concealed at this stage has gained the support of the Geneva-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC has joined the chorus of voices calling for Al Jazeera to re-employ MR, who was dismissed and ordered to leave Qatar after one of the medical checks he had to undergo to get a work permit showed that he had HIV. MR was never informed of the nature of the medical tests he had to have done. The ITUC has written a letter to the emir of Qatar demanding the reinstatement of MR. In October 2010, MR had been employed as one of five senior editors by Al Jazeera, which is owned by the State of Qatar. MR’s attorney, Nikki Stein, from Section 27, says at the time of his dismissal, he was due to be promoted to the position of managing editor.

"A new post of managing editor was being created and once it had been created he would be appointed to fill that post. He would then be supervising the other five senior editors within Al Jazeera and the duties of managing editor could be performed anywhere. We believe that one of the managing editors appointed subsequent to his dismissal has been performing his functions from London and, so, there is no reason that MR could not perform his duties from South Africa", according to Stein.

She adds that "MR was never informed why he was dismissed". It was only when he arrived back in South Africa that he discovered that his dismissal was because he has HIV.

Qatar is one five countries in the world, including Egypt, Iraq, Singapore and the Turkish Islands, that do not allow entry of any foreign nationals who have HIV.

"Al Jazeera, we believe, is relying on that in justifying the dismissal of MR. But, according to the principles of reasonable accommodation they could have accommodated this obstacle to his employment and allowed him to perform his duties from elsewhere", Stein says.

She says there is a massive gap in the protection and care of people living with HIV in Qatari law, which amounts to discrimination.

"Qatari law does not prevent discrimination on the basis of HIV status. Qatari law does not prevent dismissal on the basis of HIV status. There’s no prohibition on forced medical testing, no safe-guards in place to ensure that you get the informed consent of patients who are being tested for HIV and there are no measures in place to ensure, for example, reasonable accommodation of people living with HIV, no continued care and support services for those people".

"The laws actually allow the Minister of the Interior to deport people who pose a threat to public health, which gives him an extremely wide discretion.

And they also allow the Minister, if deportation is not immediately possible to detain foreign nationals who pose a threat to public health for what seems to us to be an indefinite period", she explains.

This is in spite of the fact that Qatar has ratified the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Discrimination.

"It’s an ILO Convention called the Discrimination Employment and Occupation Convention 111 of 1958, which prohibits discrimination on a number of listed grounds. Our argument is that those grounds should include HIV. There is a recommendation on the treatment of workers with HIV as well as a code of practice. The Discrimination Convention should include a prohibition on discrimination based on HIV status to safe-guard employees against discrimination on those grounds. Qatar has failed to comply with its international law obligations", says Stein.

Despite letters by the International Trade Union Confederation and Section 27 requesting the re-employment of MR, the emir of Qatar and Al Jazeera management have not responded. Next Tuesday Section 27 will picket the Al Jazeera offices in Johannesburg to register concern over the matter.

"Al Jazeera is wholly-owned by the Qatar Media Corporation, which is in turn wholly-owned by the State of Qatar. So, although it is not a State, it is a state-owned entity and, as such, the conduct of the officials within Al Jazeera is sanctioned by the State of Qatar. We will then hand over a memorandum to Al Jazeera setting out our demands for re-instatement and a formal recognition of the violation of our client’s rights. We’ve got the full backing of COSATU and the ITUC. We’ve got the full backing of government and, particularly, the Department of Labour, and we will continue to exert pressure", Stein says.

The Telegraph: Journalist tested for HIV without knowledge as he moved to Qatar
By By Aislinn Laing
A South African journalist who moved to Qatar after landing a job with Al Jazeera was tested for HIV without his knowledge and deported from the country when the results came back positive.
The man, who has not been identified, agreed to undergo medical tests at the request of the company when he moved to the Gulf state to take up an editor’s post at the Qatari broadcaster’s English channel in October 2010.

A month later, he was summoned to a meeting in the offices of al Jazeera where he was told his visa application had been denied and he was being deported. No reason was given.

The man, an experienced journalist who moved to the country alone, was taken by car to Doha Prison where he was put in a crowded cell and subjected to a full-body medical examination in front of other detainees.

When he was released after nearly a day’s detention, he was told that his al Jazeera contract had been terminated and he should leave Qatar within 48 hours or face arrest.

When the man returned to South Africa, he underwent further medical tests and found out that he was HIV positive.
Qatar is one of five countries that restricts people living with HIV/Aids from its residency rules.

The man said he was demanding his job back without success. "I have not been contacted by anyone in management from al Jazeera since I was deported," he said. "I really simply want my job back, a job I can actually do from the Johannesburg offices of al-Jazeera."

Section 27, a South African human rights group that has taken up the man’s case, plans to take legal action against the Qatari government and Al Jazeera on the basis that they violated international workers’ rights.

Umunyana Rugege, a lawyer for Section 27, said that the man had an HIV test before he left South Africa and it came back negative.

"He only found out he was HIV positive when he returned to South Africa which was very traumatic in itself without having the extreme violation of his human rights," she said.

Section 27 will argue that the man’s rights were violated when he was tested for HIV without his consent after voluntarily undergoing a blood test, and when his results were disclosed to his employers and immigration authorities without his agreement.

"We have written to the Qatari government and al Jazeera requested that he be reinstated, with the conditions including that he work in South Africa because he cannot return to Qatar because of his HIV status," Miss Rugege said.

The Qatari embassy in South Africa refused to comment but al Jazeera it had complied with employment law. An al Jazeera spokesman said: "Any employee moving to a new country has to pass the immigration requirements there."