Dozens of Chinese rights lawyers have launched a campaign ahead of World AIDS Day to provide free legal advice to people or groups affected by employment discrimination linked to their HIV status, RFA has learned.
A total of 61 lawyers have joined the scheme, titled AIDS Discrimination Legal Advice Month, which will run until World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
"We are lawyers who are enthusiastic about public welfare," the lawyers said in a statement launching the scheme.
"Many of our lawyers have represented activists involved in rights work on behalf of HIV-infected people."
Earlier this year, some of its members successfully represented Xie Peng, a man living with HIV in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, who was sent home on extended sick leave by his employer after his status was discovered.
Xie was reinstated in his job with a large pay rise and a two-year labor contract as a result of the mediation, according to the group, which includes Henan-based Chang Boyang, Shaanxi lawyer Chang Yiping and Beijing-based Li Fangping.
"Through our AIDS-related casework, we have become more and more aware that people living with HIV have become a severely marginalized group and that their legitimate rights and interests are being seriously violated," the group said.
Xie confirmed the statement's account of his case in an interview with RFA on Thursday.
"Like me, these lawyers are pioneers," he said. "I think that the law is like a ray of light that can encourage progress and enlightenment."
"If nobody stands up for themselves, then there will never be any progress," said Xie, whose employer had ordered him home to "take care of himself" after his HIV status was discovered in a compulsory health check.
Surge in infections
China last month reported a 14 percent surge in new HIV infections, with around 40,000 new cases reported in the second quarter of this year.
Activists say the ruling Chinese Communist Party has little interest in standing up for people with HIV/AIDS, and that employers still discriminate against people with HIV, in spite of greater awareness of how the virus is transmitted.
"HIV-infected people are unfairly treated or discriminated against in employment," rights lawyer Chang Weiping told RFA. "It is difficult for them to enter the workplace and make a living. So I think lawyers need to offer some legal help or guidance to these potential clients."
While sexual transmissions are on the rise, official figures omit many people in China who have contracted the virus through tainted blood-transfusions, spurred on by the practice of blood-selling in poverty-stricken rural areas.
HIV/AIDS advocacy work has been hampered in China by a wide-ranging clampdown on the activities of civil society and nongovernment groups, especially those receiving foreign funding.
According to Chang Yuping, mandatory health checks by employers are a provision in general guidelines issued by the government for the recruitment of civil servants, which are also used by private corporations as a guide to hiring staff.
"In my opinion, the civil service recruitment guidelines were only ever experimental; they were described as such when they were released, not as something that must be enforced," he said.
"[Mandatory health checks] are at odds with the AIDS prevention principle of voluntary testing," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.