Prostitutes, migrants rounded up in Greece

 

WITH ONLY days to go to Sunday’s general election, the streets of the Greek capital have been spared much of the intense political campaigning that characterised previous elections. But they have been the scene of two pre-election crackdowns encouraged by key ministers desperate to hold on to their seats.

The first crackdown, which began in late March, was to round up undocumented migrants, 56 of whom became the first inmates at a detention centre that opened in the west of the city on Sunday.

The second began on Friday, when a 22-year-old Russian prostitute was arrested in an unlicensed brothel, one of hundreds that have operated with near impunity for years in the city. When a subsequent health examination diagnosed her as being HIV positive, a prosecutor took the unprecedented step of allowing the publication of her name and photograph to alert men who had paid her for sex to undergo a HIV test.

The ensuing media frenzy resulted in hundreds of men calling the health authorities fearing that they may have slept with the woman.

The woman, now facing charges of grievous bodily harm and with “facilitating debauchery”, has denied she knew she was infected.

On Tuesday police published the identities of a further 11 prostitutes (nine of whom were Greek) they said had tested positive after being arrested.

In the full-length police photographs, needle marks and lesions, a sign of intravenous drug use, could be seen on the arms and necks of some of the women, all of whom worked the streets. A few were emaciated.

The Greek Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that more than 1,600 men, some of whom said they paid for unprotected sex, have telephoned the agency seeking HIV tests.

But the police action has been condemned by many. “Public health cannot be guaranteed by police-style health checks and a culture of fear surrounding ‘health bombs’,” said Reveka Papadopoulou, director of the local office of humanitarian medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières.

The government’s secretariat for gender equality said the police campaign “stigmatised” the victims of sexual violence.

The criticisms were dismissed yesterday by the citizen protection minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, who described the decision to publish the names and photographs as “totally legal”. “On the one hand, there is the right to privacy of the prostitutes but, on the other, the superior right of public health protection,” he said.

But others see an undeniable political motive in the pre-election interest in prostitution and HIV, spearheaded by Mr Chrysochoidis and colleague in health, Andreas Loverdos.

“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.”

Mr Chrysochoidis and Mr Loverdos, leading lights in Pasok, are seeking re-election in the country’s largest constituency, Athens II. Polls have been banned since April 20th, but one pollster, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper that Pasok’s share of the vote in Athens II has plummeted to a single-digit figure.