Stripped, jailed and deported for HIV
Qatar kicks out former Robben Island prisoner
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”.