Stripped, jailed and de­ported for HIV

Qatar kicks out former Robben Is­land pris­oner

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - BIANCA CA­PA­ZO­RIO

A SOUTH African jour­nal­ist kicked out of Qatar for be­ing Hiv-pos­i­tive has de­scribed how he was stripped naked and ex­am­ined by a laugh­ing doc­tor af­ter be­ing sent for med­i­cal tests which he was told were nec­es­sary for his res­i­dence per­mit there, then thrown into a jail cell in Doha.

Lo­cal so­cial jus­tice NGO Sec­tion 27 has an­nounced it would take le­gal ac­tion against the state of Qatar on be­half of the man, whose iden­tity is be­ing pro­tected. The in­ci­dent oc­curred ear­lier this year while the jour­nal­ist was em­ployed at Al Jazeera, Qatar’s national TV sta­tion.

Al Jazeera, when quizzed by Week­end Ar­gus this week, also dodged the is­sue, say­ing it had to abide by national reg­u­la­tions. It could not, how­ever, an­swer why the South African, who worked for it as a man­ag­ing editor, could not work from out­side the coun­try, when the job was cur­rently be­ing done from Lon­don.

The jour­nal­ist, iden­ti­fied only as MR, said in an af­fi­davit he had no idea why he was be­ing de­ported, only learn­ing of his Hiv-pos­i­tive sta­tus when he re­turned to SA.

The man is a former SA govern­ment of­fi­cial who spent time on Robben Is­land in the late 1980s.

In terms of the law in Qatar, it is not il­le­gal to dis­crim­i­nate against any­one based on their HIV sta­tus. Qatar is one of five coun­tries which deny visas to for­eign­ers based on their HIV sta­tus.

Sec­tion 27 said in its state­ment this week that it had ap­proached the South African del­e­ga­tion to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion “with a re­quest that they lodge a com­plaint against Qatar”.

In his af­fi­davit, the jour­nal­ist said he had been em­ployed by Al Jazeera as a se­nior editor. He left SA to take up em­ploy­ment there, start­ing work last year on Oc­to­ber 10.

The fol­low­ing month, he said, he was called into a meet­ing in which he was told he would be pro­moted, based on his good work, to the po­si­tion of man­ag­ing editor.

MR said that af­ter liv­ing in Qatar for about two months, he was sent for med­i­cal tests which he was told were nec­es­sary for his res­i­dence per­mit. A few weeks later, he and some other em­ploy­ees were sent for X-rays and other med­i­cal tests, dur­ing which more blood was drawn.

Two weeks later, the group of em­ploy­ees was taken to po­lice head­quar­ters for fin­ger­prints, but MR was told his fin­ger­prints could not be taken as his blood tests had yet to be fi­nalised.

In Jan­uary this year, still with­out any an­swers on the blood tests, MR went to a pri­vate clinic for an HIV and choles­terol test. When he re­turned that evening for the re­sults, he was chased away. “I was con­fronted by doc­tors at the clinic. One of them shouted ‘What do you want in my coun­try?’

“I was phys­i­cally chased off the premises by clinic staff and se­cu­rity guards.”

The fol­low­ing day, MR said he was called to a meet­ing at Al Jazeera’s of­fices. There, he was or­dered into a ve­hi­cle and taken to a Doha prison, where he was fin­ger­printed and thrown into a cell, with­out be­ing told what was go­ing on.

“The male pris­on­ers were ex­am­ined by the au­thor­i­ties in front of all the other pris­on­ers in the room. I felt this was a se­ri­ous in­va­sion of my dig­nity and pri­vacy. When it was my turn, I was or­dered to strip naked and spread my legs so a doc­tor could ex­am­ine me. He laughed while do­ing so.”

The jour­nal­ist was re­leased, but was later told by Al Jazeera that he had 48 hours to leave the coun­try. It was only upon his re­turn home that he learnt of his HIV sta­tus.

Sec­tion 27 says that “be­cause Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, only a Qatari court would be able to ad­ju­di­cate a case brought by MR chal­leng­ing his un­fair dis­missal and other hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions”.

“The vi­o­la­tions of MR’S rights, how­ever, are sanc­tioned by Qatari law. It is there­fore nec­es­sary to chal­lenge these laws as con­trary to Qatar’s in­ter­na­tional law obli­ga­tions.”

In ad­di­tion, the or­gan­i­sa­tion said the jour­nal­ist would not be granted a visa to en­ter Qatar for the pur­poses of any court case.

Al Jazeera’s press of­fice said in re­sponse to a Week­end Ar­gus query that “any em­ployee mov­ing to a new coun­try has to pass the im­mi­gra­tion re­quire­ments there”.

Claim­ing to be an equal op­por­tu­nity em­ployer, the TV sta­tion said it could, how­ever, not “cir­cum­vent the national reg­u­la­tions”.­pa­zo­

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