Currently, in Tajikistan, despite the efforts of the government and civil society, there remains a difficult situation with public awareness about the methods of transmission, prevention, and treatment of HIV, hence there are many outdated stereotypes about infection and people living with HIV (PLHIV).
Thus, in 2020, 165 appeals about human rights violations were registered in the online system REAct, in 121 cases the victim was a person living with HIV, and 48 cases had signs of discrimination due to positive HIV status. In addition, 48% of these violations were done by relatives, spouses, and neighbors. In everyday life, people living with HIV are exposed to stigma, insults, and domestic violence. There were cases when relatives, roommates didn’t allow to eat at a common table, use common utensils, or even kicked out a person with HIV of the house, and this is during open access with scientifically proven information about HIV transmission.
At the same time, it is important to note that in Tajikistan there are a number of laws condemning the violation of the rights of PLHIV, but the statistics of offenses and the history of a married couple from the Tajik hinterland, received by the human rights defenders REAct, outlines the need for active information work among the population under the laws of protecting HIV-positive people.
Trust, but defend your rights
This story began well for the heroine of the story, but the echoes of ignorance around HIV affected her simple desire: a warm home, mutual understanding with her husband, and the happy life of a family with children. This was the second marriage for a woman living with HIV, and she decided to enter into it with a revelation: she warned the groom about her HIV-positive status and he accepted this. In 2016, she married according to the Muslim nikah custom and later gave birth to two children. Despite the pre-wedding frankness between the spouses, her husband began to mock her HIV status and beat her in front of the children. In the hope of preserving the marriage for the sake of children, she silently endured violence and humiliation.
All her attempts to preserve the marriage were unsuccessful. The husband’s aggression only grew and, as a result, led to a logical separation. For six months they lived separately, and the woman mentally prepared herself for a quiet life without a husband.
She started to work and took care of the children, but there was another test ahead of her. Before marriage, her HIV status was known only to her parents, but now her life has changed dramatically. After parting from her husband, relatives began to ask her about HIV, neighbors avoided her in every possible way, the attitude of relatives changed radically. It turned out that her ex-husband began to tell everyone that she was sick with AIDS and for this reason, he did not want to live with her. All hopes of our heroine for a quiet life began to be distorted under the public pressure exerted.
The ice has broken or a breakthrough in the judicial practice of Tajikistan
In despair and in an attempt to restore justice, our heroine turned to a lawyer from the REAct team. There was drawn up and filed a statement of claim to the court “on the recovery of moral damage, illegal disclosure of personal life and health.”
The ex-husband, without good reason, did not appear at the court sessions, dragging out the trial. In the end, the defendant appeared at the trial and began to beg the woman to withdraw the statement of claim, promising a happy life together, but she made a firm decision and did not succumb to his emotional manipulation.
Tajik human rights activists called this case “a breakthrough in the judicial practice of Tajikistan”: on the basis of a court decision, the woman’s claim of her HIV status was disclosed, and recovering moral harm was satisfied. For violation of Article 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of Tajikistan, “The collection, storage, use and dissemination of information about a person’s personal life without his consent is prohibited,” the court exacted 20,000 somoni (approximately $ 1,754) from his ex-husband.
Lawyer’s comments: why is this case a breakthrough in the judicial practice of Tajikistan?
“Considering my practice, in which there were many similar claims to protect people living with HIV, the court made an important decision in favor of the victim and this case became a breakthrough in the court practice of the Republic of Tajikistan. The very statement about the recovery of moral damage always evokes a sharp reaction in society. The fact is that there is no established clear amount that can be used to assess the honest name and psychological state of a citizen. In some lawsuits, judges estimate the victim’s moral damage at $ 400, another judge can recover several thousand dollars from the offender, and there are also lawsuits in which citizens are simply denied such claims.
If earlier in cases of dissemination of information about a person’s personal life without his consent, medical workers acted as offenders, then this case is unique due to the rule of law over all subjects of the state who violated the article of the Constitution of the Republic of Tajikistan, in this case, the victim’s ex-husband” says the lawyer.
Small victory and ongoing battle of PLHIV
The Government of Tajikistan recognizes the need to combat stigma and discrimination against people, especially women living with HIV. Tajikistan’s National Development Strategy prioritizes women’s rights and the new National AIDS Program 2021–2025 contains a separate section on reducing stigma and discrimination against women living with HIV.
Recognition of the problem at the state level is already having a positive effect on litigation. But there is still insufficient awareness of the country’s population about HIV, which is why people living with HIV continue to discriminate and stigmatize society, they are not invited to family events, they are not approached by neighbors, they are subjected to additional psychological pressure in the family, they are not taken to work and so on. The case of our heroine with a positive HIV status, who heroically stood the trial against her ex-husband, shows the working mechanisms in the legal system that protect people living with HIV. At the moment, the court is considering her statement on a private charge of domestic violence from her ex-husband. And the current case gives hope for a fair victory in this lawsuit as well.
At the same time, there is a downside: the price of a public victory is high – nerves, pressure from her ex-husband, disclosed HIV status, which will negatively affect her interaction in society. The heroine with HIV status intends to go to the end and then live peacefully with her children, trying to provide them with the best future. Her example will definitely give a positive impetus to other women living with HIV who are in fear of threats from their loved ones who know their status because judicial practice now proves the inviolability of this information.