It’s not about prostitutes, it’s about a healthy society – sign this petition

Just a few days before Greece’s snap parliamentary elections in April, Greek police published the names and photos of over 12 prostitutes arrested for being HIV positive, in a disgraceful violation of their human dignity and a terrible example for society.

Sign the change.org petition below to tell the Greek Ministry of Justice and other authorities involved or complacent in these actions – including the Greek police, the Ministry of Health and the Citizens Protection Ministry – that it is not acceptable to disregard basic human rights and promote negative and harmful mentalities and behaviors in society.

A 22-year old Russian prostitute was arrested in an unlicensed brothel, and a health examination determined that she was HIV positive. Many more women, some Greek, were arrested in continuing raids ahead of the election. Some of them are still in prison.

Prostitution is legal in Greece, and some brothels are licensed, but there are many unlicensed ones operating in Athens and throughout the country. There is no evidence that these women knew they were infected, and some of them may be drug addicts that worked on the streets, not in brothels.

The police, the prosecutor and the health ministry claim that the identities and photos were published to alert the clients of these women, urge them to get tested, and protect their “wives and families”.

This is not about prostitutes. It is about a healthy and fair society. Greek authorities are working against both in this case.

The message that authorities are sending society is this: it is ok if you are reckless and engage in paid, unprotected sex with prostitutes or other vulnerable women (some sources suggest that clients at brothels actually pay extra to go unprotected), the state will trample the human rights of some people (namely vulnerable people) so that you know it is time to get tested.

If the Health Ministry wants to address the spread of HIV in Greece, it seems to me that the message to the public should be: any one of you out there that pays for sex, despite all the awareness campaigns that many of these women are trafficked, should now get tested. It could be any one of you. And also, stop it.

The Health Ministry claims to be concerned with the wives of Greek men that visit brothels. Has the ministry asked these wives which of these message they are more comfortable with? “Keep visiting prostitutes, we’ll arrest and humiliate the HIV positive ones” or “Prostitution is a symptom of crime, trafficking and social suffering. Now everybody is at risk and should get tested and change their behavior.”

The public safety excuses of Greek authorities for their actions do not hold up – not through their own logic, and not through any examination of best practices around the world for engaging in effective prevention and education.

From the Irish Times:

“I find it very strange that the government has only now recognised this public health danger, days before the elections. I can’t be but suspicious at the motives,” said George Tzogopoulos, of the Eliamep think tank. “We need continuity in disease prevention, not fireworks.”

International and Greek rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the local office of humanitarian medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, denounced the breach of medical confidentiality and the endangerment of the women’s safety as a violation of human rights. Police even published the addresses of some of the women, though a few are homeless, so I guess the police can’t direct any crazy people to their doorstep.

  • Press release by the European Aids Treatment Center, signed by several organizations: here.
  • The Greek Ombudsman, in a May 10, 2012 press release (in Greek), declared that publishing the photos and identities of the HIV+ women is a violation of human dignity.
  • The General Secretariat for Gender Equality also denounced these actions.

Please sign this change.org petition to make your voice heard that this is not acceptable: Greek Ministry of Justice: DEMAND THE RELEASE AND MEDICAL TREATMENT OF HIV POSITIVE WOMEN

The petition is directed to the Greek Ministry of Justice and demands the release and medical treatment of these women.

To the Greek authorities:
These are not solutions.
You should know better. You have reputable local and international organizations to consult and examples around the world to look at. You have no excuses.

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Toward Social Inclusion

There is an amazing (and very young) organization participating in the 15th Anti-racist Festival (more on this below) in Athens this weekend:  the Living Library.  This not-so-traditional library in Athens was started by a group of volunteers about nine months ago to raise awareness on human rights and social discrimination issues through dialogue.  Volunteers serve as living books by sitting down to have a conversation and share their story with visitors. Living Library will even have live dictionaries (interpreters) at the festival, to translate to/from Farsi, Dari and English.  The Athens Living Library is based on the Human Library, which began in Denmark in 2000 and by 2008 spread to 27 countries.  According to their website, the Athens team first encountered the idea through the Living Library Turkey team.

Their invitation: “Ελάτε να διαβάσετε εκείνες τις ιστορίες που σας προκαλούν, σας δυσκολεύουν, σας ιντριγκάρουν. Ελάτε εκεί που οι ιστορίες ζωντανεύουν.”  Check out their video:

The 15th Anti-racist Festival will take place July 9 – 11.  Each year, between 15,000 and 20,000 people attend to enjoy music, dance and theatrical performances from different ethnic cultural groups, photo exhibitions, video screenings and films, and of course – food.  The festival also hosts discussions on a range of topics related to racism and inequality, from the global crisis, to the violence of extreme right elements, to the relationship between racism and sports.

In addition to representatives from various local organizations, this year’s discussions will include some notable international guests:
Palestinian human rights activist Jamal Juma
Jorge Bermudez, supervisor of the Argentine worker-controlled factory FaSinPat
Filipino intellectual, activist and co-founder of Focus on the Global South, Walden Bello