China 2.0

In China, HIV-Positive And Hired To Intimidate With Infection

A Chinese housing developer recently hired AIDS patients to threaten people with infection so they would leave their homes. It seems shocking, but discrimination in China based on HIV status is actually legal, leaving many patients little employment choic

On the fringes, In Beijing
On the fringes, In Beijing
Yao Jiayi

BEIJING — If it wasn't shocking enough to learn that a local housing developer in Henan province recently hired HIV-positive people to threaten residents with infection so they would move out of their houses, consider that this wasn't an isolated case.

In China, it's relatively common for people living with AIDS to be hired for jobs such as helping to get houses demolished — in this case, the six people were known as the "AIDS demolition team" — or collecting debts, says Cheng Shuaishuai, founder of an anti-discrimination organization providing free housing to patients suffering from AIDS.

The main suspect in the Henan case, a man named Liu, told the Xinhua News Agency that he learned about the job opportunity online, and Cheng says many employers are apparently willing to use this kind of coercion on the uneducated people in Henan's rural areas.

Though Cheng stresses that HIV carriers should be punished just like other citizens if they violate the law, he says the majority of people living with AIDS in China work just like other ordinary people.

Media coverage suggests that people with HIV opt for these shady assignments intimidating people because of physical limitations that preclude them from doing heavy labor. But as Cheng points out, there are latency and onset periods for HIV-positive people. In theory, medication can prolong the latent period of the virus — the stage where there are often no symptoms — so that those infected have no obvious signs of illness. But for those with a long history of HIV infection and who started medication only after experiencing full-blown AIDS symptoms, physical fitness is already diminished.

There are more than 60,000 identified HIV cases in Henan province. The area has the highest prevalence of HIV in China because of unsafe blood donations and blood selling. Among these cases, 30,000 are past latency and in the full-blown AIDS stage. Though the Henan authority gives a small living subsidy to each person carrying the HIV virus and to people suffering from AIDS, medical expenses aren't fully covered once they are hospitalized.

That some HIV-positive people support themselves by taking jobs that require intimidation reflects the grim reality of employment discrimination against this vulnerable group. Though China's Employment Promotion Act generally specifies that employers cannot refuse hiring on the basis of whether a person carries an infectious disease, it allows companies to decline HIV-positive candidates by saying that they are "medically unfit."

In 2010, a Normal University graduate from Anhui province passed the teacher recruitment examination but the local education authority refused to give him a job because he was HIV-positive. He filed the first anti-AIDS discrimination lawsuit in China but lost both his initial case and his appeal.

His lawyer, Li Fangping, says that news coverage of the "AIDS demolition team" and similar cases will definitely affect public perception of HIV-positive people, stigmatizing them even more. It's even likely that the judges will penalize those involved more harshly than they otherwise would in order to calm public outrage.

Li says there should be scrutiny not just of the housing developer and the HIV-positive people in his employ but also of the role of public authorities. For example, was the "AIDS demolition team" somehow protected from the government?

It's only just that any housing developers and officials involved are duly punished, just as their hired hands no doubt will be.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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