Jan 07, 2015 04:36 PM

Hiring HIV/AIDS Sufferers to Intimidate People 'Common in China'

(Beijing) – Hiring sufferers of HIV/AIDS to intimidate debtors or people whose homes developers want to level is relatively common in China, says the founder of a non-governmental organization that helps victims of the disease.

In late December, police in the central province of Henan arrested five people over a plot by a developer to form a team of HIV/AIDS sufferers to threaten with infection some residents who refused to make way for a building project.

Yian Real Estate Development Co. hired a man to form a team of six people with HIV/AIDS to get residents off a parcel of land it had bought in the city of Nanyang. The man hired to form the group – which domestic media has taken to calling an "AIDS demolition team" – told the official Xinhua News Agency that he learned about the scheme online.

The group members told residents they would be infected if they did not move, media reports said, but it is unclear how they would have carried out the threat or if they even had HIV. The team also disturbed locals by lighting fireworks late at night.

The city government has also punished 25 officials, including the deputy head of a district housing bureau, for a lack of oversight of the development project and taking bribes.

Cheng Shuaishuai, who founded an organization that provides free housing to sufferers of HIV/AIDS, said the kind of intimidation seen in Nanyang happens a lot, especially in rural areas of Henan where people do not understand the disease.

The phenomenon is partly the result of the discrimination HIV/AIDS patients face in China and the lack of legal protection afforded them, Cheng said. Many people with the disease quit their jobs because they face biases, then have to live in poor conditions, he said. The result was some hired themselves out to people who want to intimidate others.

Domestic media outlets have opined that HIV/AIDS sufferers are opting for these shady assignments because they face physical limitations that bar them from doing heavy labor, an argument that seems to assume the patients are unfit for less laborious jobs. Cheng says advances in medicines means many people with the virus can lead nearly normal lives.

Henan, where the property developer wanted to hire the HIV intimidation team, has a long history of problems with HIV/AIDS. In the 1990s, a government-led program to encourage blood donations resulted in thousands of people getting infected because medical equipments was reused, contradicting best medical practices.

The province had more than 60,000 identified HIV cases as of October 31, official data show. About half of those people have developed AIDS, the disease that sees sufferers' immune system greatly weakened.

The Henan government provides HIV/AIDS patients with a small living subsidy and the necessary drugs and treatments are free, but not all medical expenses are covered when victims have to enter the hospital.

The country's Employment Promotion Act says employers cannot refuse to hire people with infectious diseases, but it does allow companies to reject HIV-positive candidates for being "medically unfit."

In 2010, a university graduate from the eastern province of Anhui passed an examination to become a teacher, but education authorities refused to hire him because he had HIV. The man filed China's first discrimination lawsuit involving HIV/AIDS, but lost the case and the appeal.

His lawyer, Li Fangping, said that news coverage of the "AIDS demolition team" in Henan and similar cases will stigmatize sufferers in the eyes of the public even more.

(Rewritten by Han Wei)

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