WATCH HIV Justice Live! (Ep 4): How to advocate for prosecutorial guidance for HIV-related cases

The fourth episode of HIV Justice Network’s web show, HIV Justice Live! that streamed live on July 14 is now available to watch on YouTube.  The episode, which our colleagues at the HIV Legal Network called a master class in advocacy” discussed the newly launched UNDP’s Guidance for Prosecutors on HIV-related criminal cases and provided insights into how to work with prosecutorial authorities so that they have a clear understanding of how to – and more importantly how not to – use HIV criminalisation laws.

Guidance like this is a good example of a ‘harm reduction’ approach if you can’t change or repeal HIV criminalisation laws, and adopting such guidance can result in fewer miscarriages of justice, as well as improve the criminal legal system’s understand of, and approach to, people living with HIV.  Once implemented it’s also a good way of holding prosecutors to account.

The Guidance was developed for UNDP by our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE colleagues, Richard Elliott and Cécile Kazatchkine of the HIV Legal Network. The process, which took two years, involved multiple consultations. Several other colleagues, including HJN’s Executive Director Edwin J Bernard, HJN Supervisory Board member Lisa Power, and HJN Global Advisory Panel member Edwin Cameron were part of the Project Advisory Committee.

The episode, hosted by Edwin J Bernard and featuring UNDP’s Kene Esom alongside Lisa Power and Richard Elliott, also included a special edit of HJN’s documentary, Doing HIV Justice, which demystifies the process of how civil society worked with the Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales to create the world’s first policy and guidance for prosecuting the reckless or intentional transmission of sexual infection.

The full-length, 30-minute version of this documentary is now available as part of a YouTube playlist that also features two other educational and informative videos: an introduction by the CPS’s Arwel Jones with some useful tips about how to engage with prosecutors, and a workshop that took place after the world premiere screening in Berlin, featuring Lisa Power and Catherine Murphy (who helped advocate for the implementation of guidance in England & Wales, and Scotland, respectively) as well as former UNAIDS Senior Human Rights and Law Adviser, Susan Timberlake.

A landmark week for HIV criminalisation

This past week has seen a huge amount of activity related to HIV and, specifically, HIV criminalisation.

Illinois is about to become only the second US state ever to completely repeal its HIV criminalisation law which has been on the books since 1989.

Meanwhile, Nevada has modernised its HIV criminalisation law, and in Michigan a county prosecutor has ordered a review of all prosecutions brought under the state’s law before it was modernised in 2019.

All of these successes were celebrated at the HIV is not a Crime Training Academy (HINAC4) that took place virtually last week and helped galvanise activists working for HIV, racial and gender justice across the US, even as there was disappointment that the High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which took place at the same time, ended up adopting a joint Political Declaration that was lacking in global consensus, with both watered-down language on human rights and some key issues completely missing.

HIV criminalisation survivor Kerry Thomas, currently incarcerated in Idaho, speaking from prison at HINAC4. Although Kerry has been able to present by phone at previous international events, this is the first time anyone has been able to both see and hear Kerry.

Despite back and forth among the countries, with opposition from Russia, Belarus, Nicaragua, and the Syrian Arab Republic to the final draft’s progressive language, such as naming ‘key populations’, the Declaration did include language on HIV criminalisation as part of the 10-10-10 targets on societal enablers calling for member states to end all inequalities faced by people living with HIV, key and other priority populations by 2025.

Specifically, the Declaration “express[es] deep concern about stigma, discrimination, violence, and restrictive and discriminatory laws and practices that target people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV – including for non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission of HIV…” and “commit[s] to eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV…by creating an enabling legal environment by reviewing and reforming, as needed, restrictive legal and policy frameworks including discriminatory laws and practices that create barriers or reinforce stigma and discrimination such as … laws related to HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission.”

Still, even as we celebrate some of these progressive commitments, much work needs to be done. Advocates and organisations have voiced their concerns that the watered-down Declaration may not fully commit countries to take action.

A crucial new advocacy tool to challenge HIV criminalisation

A crucial new advocacy tool to challenge HIV criminalisation

This week UNDP published a crucial new tool to support our advocacy efforts in challenging HIV criminalisation.

Guidance for prosecutors on HIV-related criminal cases presents ten key principles to help prosecutors understand the complex issues involved in a prosecution involving an allegation of HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure, or transmission.  It also includes key recommendations from the Global Commission, UNAIDS’ 2013 guidance for Ending overly-broad criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure, and transmission: Critical scientific, medical, and legal considerations, and the 2018 Expert Consensus Statement on the Science of HIV in the Context of Criminal Law.

These principles are:

  1. Prosecutions should be informed at all stages by the most reliable evidence
  2. Ensure that rights of complainant, defendant, and witnesses are respected throughout
  3. Pursue prosecutions in only limited circumstances, as HIV most effectively addressed as a public health matter
  4. Establish a sufficient evidentiary basis for a prosecution
  5. Consider whether prosecution in a given case is in the public interest
  6. Generally consent to pre-trial release, absent exceptional circumstances
  7. Avoid arguments that could be inflammatory, prejudicial, or contribute to public misinformation about HIV
  8. Ensure correct interpretation of science and its limitations if seeking to prove actual HIV transmission
  9. Ensure no discrimination in sentencing
  10. Ensure sentencing is not disproportionate

Although the Guidance is aimed specifically at prosecutors, it will be useful for lawmakers, judges, and defence lawyers

So far, very few jurisdictions have produced such guidelines. Ensuring that advocates understand why these Guidelines are an important harm reduction tool in our work towards ending HIV criminalisation, and how to advocate for them, will be a major focus of our work moving forward.


Video toolkit: How to advocate for prosecutorial guidelines. This workshop held in Berlin in September 2012, discussed the challenges associated with the creation of such guidelines, providing important insights from prosecutors and civil society alike, and included the European premiere of HJN’s documentary ‘Doing HIV Justice: Clarifying criminal law and policy through prosecutorial guidance’.


The Guidance was developed for UNDP by our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE colleagues, Richard Elliott and Cécile Kazatchkine of the HIV Legal Network. The process, which took two years, involved multiple consultations. Several other colleagues, including HJN’s Executive Director Edwin J Bernard, HJN Supervisory Board member Lisa Power, and HJN Global Advisory Panel member Edwin Cameron were part of the Project Advisory Committee.

At the launch of the Guidelines earlier this week, UNDP committed to continuing to support civil society in working with law and policymakers, and the criminal legal system, towards ending HIV criminalisation as part of its ongoing follow-up work on behalf of the Global Commission on HIV and Law, which published its main report in 2012 as well as a 2018 supplement. An evaluation of the Global Commission, published this month, highlights the many ways the Global Commission has beneficially impacted HIV-related laws and policies, including galvanising the movement for HIV Justice.

Editorial: “Leave no-one behind” when working to end HIV criminalisation

An editorial published to coincide with Zero Discrimination Day (March 1) by leaders in the HIV Justice movement celebrates “the courage and commitment of the growing global community of advocates, human rights defenders and others around the world who are challenging laws, policies and practices that inappropriately and unjustly criminalize people living with HIV”, but warns that this work must include and benefit those populations who are the most marginalised, and who remain most vulnerable to prosecution, despite advances in HIV science that are being used to challenge and modernise these laws.

Writing in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, the authors – who include HJN’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard; HJN’s Supervisory Board member, Michaela Clayton; and HJN’s Global Advisory Panel member, Edwin Cameron, along with Chris Beyrer, Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and GNP+’s Alexandra Volgina – note that despite many advances in the science of HIV there remains one area that is still an “all too common a threat to the lives and wellbeing of people living with HIV, as well as to the goal of ending the epidemic” – HIV criminalisation.

HIV criminalisation describes the unjust application of criminal and similar laws to people living with HIV ostensibly based on their HIV status, either via HIV‐specific criminal statutes or general criminal or other laws.

Citing data collated from HJN’s global case monitoring which suggests that HIV criminalisation intersects with “discrimination or criminalization on the basis of ethnicity, sex, gender identity, immigration status, sex work, sexuality and/or substance use,” they note that HIV criminalisation can be seen as a “surrogate marker for state‐sponsored stigma and discrimination against marginalized groups of people at higher risk of HIV.”

The editorial also addresses public health and healthcare workers who are often viewed as an extension of the criminal justice system by marginalised populations. “We are also seeing a frightening trend of prosecutions being initiated by those working in healthcare or public health without specific complaints. In some cases, police were notified of a person’s HIV diagnosis by health authorities, which then became a prompt to investigate the person’s relationship with their partner.”

Relatively few countries have repealed or modernised their laws, although efforts are currently underway across the globe, assisted by the 2018 publication of the Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law authored by 20 of the world’s leading HIV scientists, including Professor Beyrer.

The editorial celebrates and encourages the growing number of global advocates, human rights defenders and others around the world who are challenging HIV criminalisation but notes that everyone involved in the HIV response needs to play their part. “Ending HIV criminalization is the responsibility of us all,” they argue.

“It is important that we all understand how to ensure justice for all people living with HIV, not just those who have access to treatment and are fortunate enough to be undetectable,” they conclude, “so that we can finally end these outrageously unjust laws, policies and practices against people living with HIV in all of their diversity.”

Australia: New South Wales mandatory testing bill is unnecessary and could be counterproductive

Mandatory disease testing bill ‘could put officers at risk’

NSW Health says a proposed law enabling authorities to force people to undergo testing for bloodborne diseases could actually put frontline workers at greater risk.

The department’s evidence to a parliamentary committee came as a senior NSW police official said it’s “not unusual” for officers to get pelted with faeces mixed with blood.

Getting bitten, spat on, or splashed with blood are some of the unfortunate realities faced on the job by emergency and prison workers, and come with the additional fear of getting infected with bloodborne diseases.

But the risk of infection from such incidents is very low, and drawing blood samples from people against their will could make them less likely to trust health workers to perform voluntary tests, a top NSW Health official said.

Such an increase in mistrust could make it harder for health workers to combat the spread of the diseases, including among prisoners where the prevalence of hepatitis C is up to 20 per cent higher than in the general community, the committee heard.

“The importance of reducing any stigma and discrimination, and improving the quality and accuracy of information about bloodborne viruses is paramount to engaging people in treatment,” said Michelle Cretikos, executive director with NSW Health‘s population and public health division.

“If people are discouraged from accessing treatment, then in fact the risk may increase, both to the people in the community as well as the workers that are looking after them.

“It‘s likely to reduce people’s trust in the health services … and may reduce access to treatment and access to care.”

Since 1994, there have been zero cases of NSW healthcare workers getting infected with HIV after an exposure in the workplace, Dr Cretikos said, pointing to an NSW Health policy directive.

That same directive included a survey of international studies, including an Australian one, all of which failed to turn up a single case of HIV transmission to healthcare workers after exposure to the virus.

“There have been zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero cases in all of those studies … And that’s correct over many years, across many countries,” Dr Cretikos said.

Even when the exposure was in the form of a needle puncture, the transmission risk was calculated at 0.3 per cent.

One Brazilian study conducted between 1997 and 2009 that looked at 80 cases of healthcare workers getting exposed to HIV via needle prick injuries found that none of the workers were infected.

For hepatitis C exposure, the rate of transmission was slightly higher, with a range of nine international studies showing a rate between zero and 2.3 per cent.

That included an Australian study which showed no instances of transmission among 64 incidents of puncture injuries caused by large needles.

A top corrective services official said similar data was difficult to collect for prison staff, because workers were not mandated to let their employers know whether they had a disease or not.

But the fact that there is a risk means there is a need for greater protection, said Gayle Robson, chief of staff to the commissioner of Corrective Services NSW.

“It is (…) sufficient, there is simply a risk of our staff contracting bloodborne viruses,” Ms Robson said.

There was no risk of bloodborne virus infection from many other body fluids such as urine, spit or faeces, or when the skin wasn’t breached, the NSW Health document said.

NSW police deputy commissioner for corporate services Malcolm Lanyon told the committee that out of some 2,500 assaults on police last financial year, 490 involved exposure to bodily fluids, including 69 bites and 29 needlestick injuries.

He said being able to force people to undergo disease testing would significantly reduce the anxiety officers feel when they’ve been exposed to bodily fluids.

“Waiting periods associated with self-testing of the police officer can lead to months of uncertainty, which can be enormously stressful and have lasting psychological impacts on officers and their family,” Commissioner Lanyon said.

And while non-blood body fluids might not pose a disease risk on their own, officers were often exposed to a mix of substances that included blood, he said.

“There are a number of disgusting and degrading acts that happen often when someone is in custody in a cell … It’s not unusual for them to deliberately defecate in there, it’s not unusual for people to then self-harm in that cell, get blood mixed with faeces, and throw that at police officers. That’s not an unusual scenario in custody.”

Corrective Services director Craig Smith similarly said that corrective officers suffer a blow to their mental health when faced with uncertainty over whether they could have been infected.

“I’ve seen grown men cry,” Mr Smith said.

“I agree that the risks are low, (but) it‘s that ‘maybe’.”

Year in review: Celebrating successes, highlighting the many challenges ahead

This past year has shown us what happens when one pandemic –  HIV – is overshadowed by another pandemic, COVID-19.  Despite the many lessons learned from our collective advocacy against HIV criminalisation that we and our HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE partners highlighted in March, these lessons were mostly ignored by policymakers around the world.

The result was a series of knee-jerk legal, policy and police responses leading to the overzealous policing of people living with HIV and other key and inadequately served populations already subject to existing inequalities in law and policy, which we have been highlighting in our HIV Justice Weekly newsletter since March.

This latest pandemic overshadowed, and in some cases undermined, the work we and others have been doing to ensure a fair, just, rational and evidence-based response towards people living with HIV by the criminal justice system.

This past year we documented at least 90 cases of unjust HIV criminalisation in 25 countries, with Russia and the United States being the worse offenders.  Women living with HIV were accused in 25% of those cases. Three of these cases were for breastfeeding.  In the United States, more than 50% of those accused in HIV criminalisation cases were people of colour.  

2020 also saw Poland passing a new law against COVID-19 that also increased the criminal penalty for HIV exposure, and number of disappointing HIV criminalisation higher court appeals in the US (Ohio), and Canada (Ontario and Alberta) that appeared to ignore science over stigma.

And yet, despite the many difficulties of 2020, the movement to end unjust HIV criminalisation has continued to gain momentum.

In the United States, Washington State modernised its HIV-specific criminal law in March, reducing the ‘crime’ from a felony to a misdemeanour, adding in a number of defences, and eliminating the sex offender registration requirement.  Earlier this month, legislators in Missouri published plans to modernise its HIV-specific criminal law next year.

In Europe, Sweden abolished the legal requirement to disclose HIV status in March, the Spanish Supreme Court set an important precedent for HIV criminalisation cases in May, and in June, Scottish police ended the stigmatising practice of marking people living with HIV as ‘contagious’ in their database.

In Francophone Africa, HIV-specific criminal law reform in Benin and across the region is looking likely thanks to a recognition that existing laws do not reflect up-to-date science.

And in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a process to completely abolish the draconian HIV-specific criminal law in Belarus has begun.

There is still so much more to do, however.  Despite these successes, as well as the many milestones the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE movement has achieved since its launch in 2016, we will not rest until everyone living with HIV in all their diversity is treated equally, fairly and justly by all actors of the criminal justice system.

UK: Police Federation working with the National AIDS Trust to tackle HIV stigma and misinformation

Busting the myths around HIV

The Federation is working with the National AIDS Trust to tackle the stigma of HIV and provide reassurance for colleagues around its transmission.

Over the decades, many officers have been spat at or bitten by individuals who ‘weaponise’ the virus by claiming to be infected. But the chances of acquiring HIV through spit or a bite are close to zero, and no police officer has ever acquired it in this way.

There are only three ways a person can be infected – needle sharing, sexual intercourse and breastfeeding.

PFEW National Board member Simon Kempton, who has led on the issue of communicable diseases, said: “The act of spitting at a police officer is vile, is disgusting and particularly during a global pandemic carries risks of transmitting other diseases. But we know from decades of research that it’s impossible to transmit HIV by that method, and people who threaten us with that only increase that feeling of fear and stigma.

“The Federation is keen to help colleagues understand the true risks of transmission, to help them deal with the fear factor that’s been built in unnecessarily. Knowledge IS power and helping officers to understand how negligible the risks are is important to their mental health after being assaulted.”

HIV if left untreated, attacks the immune system. However, if caught early and treated, it will not lead to AIDS which is the advanced stage. AIDS is now very uncommon in the UK thanks to effective treatment and people living with HIV can live full and productive lives with normal life expectancy.

Since HIV is now classed as a disability and a protected characteristic, it is not appropriate to record HIV status as a warning marker on police databases, except in situations like Custody where treatments might need to be administered.

DC Tracy O’Hara QPM of Merseyside Police explained: “These markers should only be on a custody record health assessment and even then, only available to those who need to know this information. So, if someone says, ‘I live with this condition and I need my medicine’ that should be on the record, but HIV status is not something the police service should be disclosing nor holding as warning markers or flags.

“It is important to note that we have colleagues living with HIV. How must they feel when we add to stigma or we store this information in such a negative way? They are never going to feel comfortable sharing their status to ensure their health is looked after. So this is not simply about our communities it is about our colleagues as well.”

More information is available at www.nat.org.uk

Look out for World AIDS Day on 1 December. This is an opportunity to show support for people living with HIV, and to remember those lost to the virus.

Watch all the videos of Beyond Blame @HIV2020 – our “perfectly executed…deftly curated, deeply informative” webshow

Earlier this month, advocates from all over the world came together for two hours to discuss the successes and challenges of the global movement to end HIV criminalisation.

All of the recordings of Beyond Blame: Challenging HIV Criminalisation for HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE are now available on the HIV Justice Network’s YouTube Channel.

“HUGE pleasure 2B at #BeyondBlame2020 conference – deftly curated, deeply informative; speakers were great; the passion & commitment to #HIVjustice was palpable. Much progress yet a sober reminder that the work is far from over.”

Kene Esom, Policy Specialist: Human Rights, Law and Gender, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

 

The full-length director’s cut version – with enhanced audio and video – is now available in English as well as with the audio track of the recorded simultaneous translation in French, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.

The English version is also available as a YouTube playlist in ‘bite-size’ chunks, with each segment of the webshow available as standalone videos.  This means, for example, if you just want to watch (or share) the segment on ‘women challenging HIV criminalisation in Africa‘, or on ‘bringing science to justice, and justice to science‘, it’s now possible.

“That webinar was perfectly executed. Great sound, engaging transitions (they actually played people on and off!), and multiple speakers in various collections. Having ALL OF THEM back at the end showed the breadth of this technical accomplishment and the depth of the speakers’ field of expertise. Not everyone may notice these things but boy, I sure do, and it was totally pro. I’ve seen big name conferences who couldn’t get this right… Congratulations all around, and especially to [director] Nicholas Feustel.

Mark S King, My Fabulous Disease

 

We have also made available for the first time the standalone recording of Edwin Cameron’s closing speech, which inspired so many.  The transcript is included in full below.

“We have been being battling this fight for many years. Since the start of the HIV epidemic we as gay men, as gay women, as queers, as transgender people, as sex workers, as people using drugs, have been persecuted by the criminal law. And I’m here to say, “Enough! Enough!

We have achieved a great deal with our movement, with the HIV Justice Network. We have achieved a great deal in conscientizing law makers, law givers and the public. It is now time for us to join in unison to demand the end of these stigmatising, retrograde, unproductive, hurtful, harmful laws.

It is a long struggle we’ve engaged in. And it’s one that has hurt many of us. Some of us here today, some of us listening in, some of us who have spoken, have felt the most brutal brush of the law. They have been imprisoned, unjustly prosecuted, unjustly convicted, and unjustly sent away.

HIV is not a crime. But there is more to it. Criminalising HIV, criminalising the transmission or exposure of HIV, as many countries on my own beautiful continent Africa do, is not just stupid and retrograde. It impedes the most important message of the HIV epidemic now, which is that this epidemic is manageable. I’ve been on antiretroviral treatment now for very nearly 23 years. My viral load has been undetectable for more than 20.

We can beat this, but we have to approach this issue as public health issue. We have to approach it rationally and sensibly, and without stigma, and without targeting people, and without seeking to hurt and marginalise people.We’ve made calamitous mistakes with the misapplication of the criminal law over the last hundred years, in the so-called ‘war on drugs’. We continue to make a calamitous mistake in Africa and elsewhere by misusing the criminal law against queer people like myself. We make a huge mistake by misusing the criminal law against people with HIV.

Let us rise today and say, “Enough!”

 

UK: Scotland Police ends practice of marking people with HIV as ‘contagious’ in intelligence database

Police Scotland to stop recording HIV status in database

Police Scotland has said it will stop marking people with HIV as “contagious” in their intelligence database after reviewing the procedure.

A charity uncovered the practice and raised concerns that it could lead to discrimination.

HIV Scotland said the change was “welcome news”, but that “questions still remain”.

Police Scotland said it had amended its policy, and that HIV status would be removed and no longer logged.

The practice was uncovered after HIV Scotland wrote to the force asking if they held information on a person’s HIV status, and if the information was stored under an “infectious” marker.

The police responded that the “contagious” marker was applied to anyone who they had received relevant intelligence about.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs wrote that “having identified this practice, and in line with current policy on the Criminal History System (CHS) and the Police National Computer (PNC) where HIV is not recorded, I have instructed that this is immediately reviewed”.

In a later letter, police confirmed that following a review it had amended its practice and policy and now “no longer records HIV status on SID (Scottish Intelligence Database) within the contagious indicator field.”

About 97% of those living with HIV in Scotland are on effective treatment and therefore have an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot pass HIV on to others.

‘Not contagious’

HIV Scotland’s chief executive Nathan Sparling said: “Clearly this is welcome news from Police Scotland, but questions still remain.

“Will they review activity that has led to people living with HIV being targeted or discriminated against because of their HIV status? What training has been provided to officers from constable to higher ranks to ensure that any knowledge intelligence – information that is known to officers but not stored in SID – is not used to discriminate against people?

“They have identified that GDPR regulations place a greater emphasis on the retention of information, and places the burden on organisations to justify why information is being retained – so can they clarify why the information was retained in the first place, and if not will they refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office?

Mr Sparling added that the charity had only learned of this practice by chance, but said it was a “systematic issue that could have impacted the lives of people living with HIV”.

‘Essential resource’

He added: “We hope that this action will have a positive impact and shows the public that people living with HIV are not contagious.

“The modern reality is that many people living with HIV are on treatment so effective it reduces levels of the virus to a level that is undetectable in the blood, they can’t pass it on to their sexual partners and significantly reduces the risk of transmission through other routes.”

ACC Speirs said: “A recent review of the Scottish Intelligence Database has resulted in Police Scotland amending its practice and policy. We no longer log HIV status as a contagious indicator and existing indicators which detailed HIV status will be removed.

“SID is an essential resource that allows police officers to carry out their role safely and effectively. We regularly review intelligence that is retained to make sure it is appropriate and complies with data laws. Further reviews will be carried out to specifically ensure compliance with this amended policy.”

HIV criminalisation still an issue during COVID-19 pandemic

On 21 February, just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we celebrated a week where – for the first time in years – we saw no reported cases of HIV criminalisation anywhere in the world.

Soon after we began to notice fewer reports of HIV criminalisation cases and fewer articles related to our collective advocacy.  We wondered at the time whether this may be due, in part, to our previous advocacy successes, athough we thought it was more likely a reflection of the media and the criminal justice system changing their focus to COVID-19.

Certainly, police have been unbelievably busy dealing with ensuring lockdowns and quarantines are followed – some more zealously than others – and courts, as well as parliaments are either closed or dealing only with the most urgent of cases. This is having a concerning impact upon the processing of HIV criminalisation cases, including appeals, leaving those unjustly accused or convicted in limbo and at greater risk of acquiring COVID-19 whilst on remand or in prison.

Now, after several weeks of seeing no HIV-related criminal cases, this past week we have, unfortunately, documented two further HIV-related arrests – a woman in the Rostov region of Russia is accused of passing on HIV to her husband and faces five years in prison; and a man in Louisiana in the United States was arrested after allegedly spitting on an officer and then charged with “intentional exposure to the AIDS virus” after he informed medical staff of his HIV-positive status.

The US news report notes – without obvious irony – the Kafkaesque nature of the law in Louisiana by concluding:

While saliva alone cannot transmit HIV or AIDS, Louisiana law holds that knowingly infected people who spit at first responders can face up to 11 years in prison and/or pay a $6,000 fine.

 

This week, we also saw a remarkably comprehensive article about HIV criminalisation in Tajikistan, which explored how and why the country’s criminal code potentially considers every HIV-positive citizen to be a criminal, what this means for people living with HIV in the country, and how to avoid prosecution as well as ways to organise.

Finally, some good news relating to HIV criminalisation as well as to COVID-19 criminalisation.

In Spain, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a man accused of criminal HIV transmission noting that evidence pointed to the complainant being aware of his status prior to agreeing to condomless sex, meaning there was consent. 

And in Malta, where it was proposed earlier in the week to add COVID-19 to the list of communicable diseases covered by the law used to criminalise the wilful or negligent spread of HIV and hepatitis, this proposal has since been put on hold, due to very real concerns that this may do more harm than good for public health, as well as create difficulties around proof in court.

The Times of Malta reports:

The law could also strain the already stretched law enforcement resources if they suddenly had to deal with a flood of reports over possible criminal spreading of the virus.

“In essence, this seems like a good idea at first glance but it presents a number of problems,” one government minister privy to the discussions said.

The possibility of such a reform had not even been brought before Cabinet yet, he said, adding he understood it “has been put on the back burner for now”. 

“We have bigger fish to fry, right now.”

 

If only other punitive-minded governments – and overly-zealous law enforcement officers – around the world thought this way about COVID-19 and other communicable diseases right now, including, of course, HIV.