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Greece: HIV-Positive Sex Workers Brutally Exposed Online

A multitude of reactions have come after the Greek police uploaded photos and personal data of HIV-positive sex workers to its website. NGOs and hundreds of netizens condemned, through social media, the ones responsible for this campaign, as well as mainstream media for their biased coverage.

It all started when, on April 26, 2012, the authorities decided to perform controls on illegal brothels in the center of Athens, resulting in the arrest of a 22-year-old Russian sex worker who was HIV-positive, didn't hold papers and consequently didn't take any necessary health tests. On April 29, the Greek authorities, by the prosecutor's orders, published personal data and a photograph of the prostitute on its official website, claiming that this exposure “aims to secure the social community”.

According to Kathimerini [el] newspaper, almost 1,000 of her clients rushed to call the AIDS hotline and ΚΕEL (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) [el].

In the following days, KEEL engaged itself in performing health controls on illegal sex workers and brothels in the center of Athens, detecting 11 more women who were infected with the AIDS virus. The authorities uploaded once again the personal data and photos of those women, while the prosecutor pressed charges for intentional physical damage. Finally, it was decided that they would be kept in detention, as well as five more HIV-positive sex workers that were spotted later.

Reactions on the web

Hundreds of netizens condemned the act of publicizing the personal data of sex workers as an inhuman mistake by former Minister of Citizen Protection, Mr Cryssochoides, as well as former Health Minister, Mr Loverdos, indicating that this action falls into the category of a tremendous violation of human rights.

The former Greek Health Minister caused reactions when last December he proposed the deportation of foreign sex workers with HIV, declaring [dead link] that “the disease is transmitted from illegal immigrants to the Greek client, and consequently to the Greek family”.

@CrippleHorse: Αν η οροθετική ήταν Ελληνίδα, δεν θα διαπομπευόταν. Διαπομπεύεται για να αποδείξει ο Λοβέρδος τη φασιστική του θεωρία ότι μας κολλάνε οι ξένες.

@CrippleHorse: If the HIV-positive woman was Greek, she wouldn't be exposed that way. This is happening so that Loverdos proves his fascist theory that foreign women transmit the disease.

@PrinGR: Όχι υπουργός Προστασίας του Πολίτη, αλλά υπουργός Διαπόμπευσης και Εξευτελισμού του (αλλοδαπού) Πολίτη αναδείχτηκε ο Ανδρ. Λοβέρδος.

@PrinGR: Andrew Loverdos, instead of Minister of Citizen's Protection, he can be seen as Minister of Shameful Exposure and Humiliation of (Foreign) Citizens.

@Contrabbando: Τα πάντα στο βωμό της υπεράσπισης του Ελληναρά “οικογενειάρχη νοικοκυραίου”, που κινδυνεύει από τις “υγειονομικές βόμβες”, κατά Λοβέρδο.

@Contrabbando: According to Loverdos, everything should be sacrificed for the interest of the macho Greek citizen, “the respectful head of the family”, that is endangered by the “disease bombs”.

@zoemavroudi: Minister Loverdos: Violating medical confidentiality by publishing the HIV status of a prostitute encompasses your legacy. @a_loverdos

Dozens of voices were united through the Internet, calling for the immediate arrest of those responsible, the clients of those women, as well as their pimps and all human trafficking circuits that have a strong presence in Greece, even with state and police tolerance:

@Antidrasex: Να βρεις και τους πελατες και τους νταβατζήδες, @hellenicpolice και να δώσεις και αυτών τις φωτογραφίες στη δημοσιότητα. Ντροπή σας!

@Antidrasex: You should also look for the clients and the pimps, @hellenicpolice, and publish their pictures too. Shame on you!

@thesspirit: Οι καλοί οικογενειάρχες Αττικής που πήγαιναν σε ΠΑΡΑΝΟΜΟ οίκο ανοχής ΧΩΡΙΣ προφυλακτικό με γυναίκα ΘΥΜΑ trafficking δεν έχουν ΚΑΜΙΑ ευθύνη.

@thesspirit: The respectful family men of Attica, that enter an ILLEGAL brothel WITHOUT a condom, with a woman who is a VICTIM of trafficking, have NO responsibility whatsoever.

@papadimi: Ο πραγματικός δημόσιος κίνδυνος είναι όλοι αυτοί που δημοσίευσαν τις φώτο & πιο επικίνδυνοι εκείνοι που το θεωρούν ηθικό @chrisgr_ @lifomag

@papadimi: The real public enemies are those who published those photos, and even more dangerous are those who think that was morally correct @chrisgr_ @lifomag

Many expressed their concern that publishing those pictures might become the first step of a general targeting against vulnerable social groups:

@LeVoleur: η διαπόμπευση είναι πάντα ένα δείγμα μιας παρηκμασμένης κοινωνίας

@LeVoleur: Shaming exposure is always an element of rotten society

@zoemavroudi: The violation of the prostitute's personal data in Greece is only a sign of what's to come for the weak. That is, for all of us.

Current legal framework

Lawyer, Vasilis Sotiropoulos, who also represented humanitarian organizations for their complaint [el] on the issue, noted on his blog that the publication of personal data of HIV positive people is illegal, and that the publication with a simple court order overrdies the Data Protection Authority [el]:

@Sotiropoulos: The publication of information regarding one's health is allowed exclusively after the given permission of the Data protection Authority.

The acthivist blogger also noted [dead link]:

Within the recommendations of the International Labor Organization regarding HIV/AIDS in the work environment, it is stated that there is no profession from which people with HIV should be excluded, however, in every work place, as far as prevention and access to information and the health services are concerned, adequate measures should be taken.

Journalist Matina Stevis of Wall Street Journal summarized the legal status:

@MatinaStevis: Publishing private medical records for whatever reason -even public order- is against Greek and European law.

However, there were people that argued on how public health should be considered as a priority:

@P_Vlachos: @MatinaStevis The social right to public health precedes personal data protection (Law 3418/2005)

Reactions by organizations

Citizen's Advocate [el], an independent authority published an official declaration, on 10 May, stating that the publication of data and photos of people with HIV-AIDS is insulting to human dignity and violates patient's rights.

The publication [..] promoted, in a false and misleading way, the protection of public goods as an act that is incompatible to the protection of fundamental individual rights, affecting constitutional and european legal culture. [..] protection measures of public health cannot violate the rights of patients and people with HIV-AIDS.

The feminist initiative for the elimination of violence against women [el] condemned the inhuman and humiliating way those women were treated by public authorities and refers to it as a “racist orgy” and as violation of justice and human rights. There were also reactions by the Greek Union for Human Rights, the Addicts Therapy Center [el]  (Kethea), the Network of Political and Social Rights [dead link] and other organizations, while the Daily Newspaper Journalists Union of Attica (Esiea) condemned the publication of the photos [el] by newspapers, channels and websites, that “participate in the public humiliation of certain women, violating every aspect of the deontology code and professional ethics of journalists”.

At the same time, the issue was recognized globally when AWID, an organization for the protection of women's rights, promoted and informed about the incident and the gathering of petitions and signatures via Change.org website, that will be sent to the greek Prime Minister, aiming at institutional pressure.

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