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HIV patient standing trial in mask
(Beijing Today)
Updated: 2004-04-12 09:06

'This shows they had little understanding about AIDS, and it also has a negative effect on the rest of society and attitudes towards AIDS among the public. The government and the media should be obliged to smash this discrimination.' Yang Shaogan

Yanta District People's Intermediate Court in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province felt masks would help reduce the risk of AIDS infection.
It was an unusual case for the Yanta District People's Intermediate Court in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. The suspect was standing trial wearing a white mask and rubber gloves while the bailiffs were keeping a distance. This was because the defendant, Mu, was HIV-positive.

The hearing wasn't even conducted in the court but in an adjoining interrogation room. The two court guards were also wearng masks and gloves. They had decided not to handcuff the suspect. "We were afraid the steel handcuffs might rub his skin," one of the policemen said after the trial. The court said they were just trying to avoid any possible harm to others during Mu's trial, but some have suggested that the court's conduct revealed ignorance and discrimination against AIDS sufferers.

Mu had got involved in a fight and had killed his opponent. When he was first sent to the detention house in Yanta District last year, the staff there were frightened. The detention office organized a special training relating to AIDS and information was also passed on to other criminals in detention at the same time.

The police van used to transport an AIDS-infected defendant to court in Hangzhou.
Xi'an-based Huashang Daily reported on March 27 that there were two other people sharing a cell with Mu. When asked if he was scared about living next to an AIDS sufferer, one of Mu's roommates said, "No. It's not so easy to become infected by AIDS, and he behaved well."

However, the court was still nervous about Mu. Ma Jianguo, the judge at Mu's hearing, admitted the staff were joking about not using the pen used by Mu to sign his name.

"People will ask, is our health more important than that of Premier Wen Jiabao, who shook hands with AIDS patients? People may know about AIDS, but that doesn't mean their ultimate attitudes have changed. Even judges have special concerns about this kind of situation," he said.

"Our extra measures do not represent discrimination against AIDS-infected suspects," Ma added. "We think the extra protection ieves the pressure on the court police. With no masks, how could we deal with spitting? With no gloves, what could we do if he cut himself?"

Ma's explanations soon aroused a strong debate among AIDS volunteers, AIDS vicims and judicial experts. Some say the court was sensible to protect the police and judges, while others think the measures were unnecessary.

Zhu Ruiqi, 50, an AIDS patient in Shuangmiao Village, Henan Province

It shows their lacking in basic AIDS knowledge. Why did they wear masks since the disease never be spread through the air? Maybe it's acceptable to make the suspect wear gloves to avoid the risk of bleeding. But I do not think the police should worry about using a pen used by an AIDS sufferer.

Hu Jia, an AIDS assistance volunteer in Beijing

This is definitely discrimination against AIDS victims. These measures are as ridiculous as when AIDS patients were first treated in a Beijing hospital. Doctors would wear rubber overshoes and a protection suit, stricter even than the precautions against SARS last year. When I worked with AIDS-infected colleagues in Taiwan, all our organization members treated them the same as anyone else.

It is common knowledge that spitting cannot spread the AIDS virus; only when the body fluid of an AIDS sufferer mixes with that of someone else can they be infected. I have never seen any special treatment towards AIDS-infected prisoners in other countries.

Another volunteer in Beijing who requested anonymity

How can AIDS victims be treated in a fair and more tolerant manner when even the court dares not use the pen used by him? Judges and police are representatives of the government, so how will the public react if they treat AIDS patients like this? The efforts to understand AIDS can be ruined by this.

Zhu Maowen, a writer for www.jcrb.com

I think the panic of the Xi'an court is not discrimination. If the police and the criminals have mutual trust, that's obviously the best. There's a risk of AIDS-infected suspects attacking the police, so the police choose these means to protect themselves. The self-protection measures taken by the police has nothing to do with discrimination.

Wu Zhelan, pseudonym of a writer for www.jcrb.com

The court takes double standards. The police dared not touch the pen used by Mu, but why then were suspects who were not infected with AIDS allowed to live in the same cell as Mu?

Xu Keyin, director of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention and Control Center, Ditan Hospital

AIDS is not SARS, and it is totally unnecessary to have the suspect wear a mask and gloves. Apart from the handcuffs, all the measures were unnecessary. The police and judicial department should not show such an excessive response to an AIDS-infected suspect, as it can have a negative impact on public attitudes. The Xi'an court should be educated about how AIDS can be spread since their worry rises from their lack of knowledge about the disease. I do not know if it is a kind of discrimination, but I know what they did was not necessary.

Zhang Libin, an attorney with an international law firm in Beijing

When hearing a case in the court, the judge has to decide on any special measures required. He or she must balance the possible danger to members of the public and possible damage to the suspect.

The judge would probably care more about the public than the suspect's personal interests, or dignity. Although medical science has confirmed that spitting cannot infect people with AIDS, the judge still has the right to take any special measures considered necessary.

An expert from the Labor Education Bureau, Ministry of Justice

It is a must for judicial departments to take measures to prevent any possible risk, but the measures should be appropriate. I think this matter, although it raises issues that need to be dealt with urgently, did not represent discrimination or prejudice towards AIDS patients.

First, it should be stressed that special treatment for AIDS-infected suspects is not discrimination. If the police were infected by these suspects, who would be responsible? What's more, if the police got infected with AIDS, it would have a huge negative impact on the work with AIDS-infected suspects.

The judiciary should form a unified standard to deal with AIDS-infected suspects including equipment and measures, such as special cells. Detailed rules should also be established for damages relating to AIDS.

Yang Shaogang, an attorney with Shanghai Jiuhui Law Firm

Early in March, a court in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, heard a case about an AIDS-infected thief, and all the court police were issued with masks and plastic gloves. This shows they had little understanding about AIDS, and it also has a negative effect on the rest of society and attitudes towards AIDS among the public. The government and the media should be obliged to tackle this discrimination.

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