In an outrageous development, officials in the Czech Republic are planning to prosecute 30 gay men living with HIV for having sex without a condom.
In 2005, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that citizens can face criminal charges for spreading an infectious disease such as HIV by not using a condom during sex.
According to the HIV Justice Network, it appears that without any evidence, the Public Health Authority in Prague has decided that the men must be guilty of the “crime” simply because they are HIV positive.
Officials have taken it upon themselves to move to charge the men, despite no complaints being made against them by any individuals. It is unclear how the authorities discovered the HIV status of the men.
They face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty. In a media release, the Czech AIDS Society said that it was assisting the men with legal support.
The organisation pointed out that, “being diagnosed with an STI does not, in and of itself, prove that condomless sex took place because most STIs can be acquired even when condoms are used.”
They warned that criminalising the transmission of HIV will not help in the fight against the spread of the virus but will lead to people not getting tested so they can’t be blamed for knowingly infecting others.
The head of Prague’s Public Health Authority, Zdenka Jagrova, has denied that the gay community is being targeted and said that the authority “is obliged to protect the public health of the population and must act in the same manner as in case of other infectious diseases.”
She claimed that the campaign to protect the men is trying “to assert alleged rights of a minority at the expense of the rights of the majority.”
Jagrova added: “We consider attempts to create a privileged group that would be excluded from generally defined responsibilities very dangerous.”
A number of organisations, including the HIV Justice Network, AIDS Action Europe, the European AIDS Treatment Group, and the European Commission’s Civil Society Forum on HIV/AIDS, and others, have expressed their concern at the government’s move.
In an open letter, they demanded that the Czech Republic end the criminal investigation against the men, which they said violates their right to personal integrity and privacy and is counter-productive to public health.
“Evidence shows that criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, potential or perceived exposure or non-intentional transmission deter people from getting tested and force them to hide their HIV status and/or sexual orientation, thus reducing opportunities for treatment which greatly reduces infectiousness,” said the groups.
An online petition has been set up to “stop the persecution of people with HIV in the Czech Republic.”