Rights Group to Sue Qatar, Al Jazeera for Deporting HIV Positive Journalist

Gulf state of Qatar deported a South African journalist hired by Al Jazeera for being HIV positive in 2010; December 1 marks World AIDS Day.

A South African human rights organization is planning to file an international law suit against the Gulf state of Qatar and its broadcaster Al Jazeera after a journalist was deported from the Gulf country for being HIV positive.

The journalist, a South African who asked that his identity be withheld, had relocated to the country after being hired by the Doha-based television network's English language channel in October 2010.

Al-Jazeera's English-language channel's newsroom in Washington D.C.

According to Section 27, the organization that has taken up his case, he was told by Al Jazeera shortly after arriving to undergo a medical examination. When the test results came back, he was called to its offices for a meeting.

"On his arrival, he was ordered to get into a car and driven to the Doha Prison, where he was detained in a crowded cell. He was forced to undergo a full medical examination, including a full body search, in front of the other prisoners," Section 27 said in a statement.

He was later released from the prison, ordered to leave Qatar within 48 hours and informed of his dismissal by Al Jazeera.

The Qatari embassy in South Africa was not immediately able to comment on the case when contacted by dpa.

"We addressed a demand to Al Jazeera asking for the journalist's reinstatement, and, as long as the existing laws are in place, to allow him to perform his duties from anywhere else in the world," said Section 27 attorney Nikki Stein.

"We have not even had an acknowledgment of receipt. So, no response at all," she noted.

Stein said the case cannot be brought before a judge in Qatar, one of 49 countries that restrict the entry of people living with HIV. It is also one of only a handful of countries that will refuse short-term visas to people living with HIV, according to the UN.

"What we can't do is sue in a Qatari court, for two reasons. Firstly, our client is HIV positive and won't be granted a visa.

The second reason is that the laws in Qatar actually sanction what happened to our client," said Stein.

The organization would however attempt to take the matter to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, she said.

"Qatar does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of one's HIV status," Stein said. "The minister of interior has powers under domestic legislation to detain people with HIV and deport them."

Section 27 has the backing of the influential Congress of South African Trade Unions but Stein is still awaiting approval for the case by South Africa's delegation to the ILO, a necessary legal step.

Stein said she is hopeful, especially since the government of South Africa has repeatedly committed itself to defending people with HIV/AIDS.

Section 27 would ask the ILO to recommend to Qatar that it ensures there is no discrimination on the basis of a person's HIV status.

South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world. It also has a strong tradition of HIV/AIDS activism.

President Jacob Zuma in a speech to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday said a "key priority is to deal with the stigma, discrimination and human rights violations of the infected and affected."

"The conduct of Qatar and Al Jazeera is akin to the policies adopted by the South African government under apartheid, where HIV status was the basis for the forced repatriation of migrant workers," said Section 27 in a statement.