- Photo: Courtesy of Mish Glitter Pony.
The Scavenger | 28 August 2011
Protestors attacked by police at international AIDS conference
An anti-Free Trade Agreement protest that took place outside an International Congress on AIDS in the Asia Pacific (ICAAP) in Busan in South Korea on 27 August was violently attacked by police. One protestor was illegally detained, while others were dragged, beaten and verbally abused, according to participants at the event, writes Rachel Evans.
ICAAP which runs from 26 - 30 August, 2011, expected 4,000 participants, and has not so far condemned the police attack.
The ‘Don’t trade our lives away, Networks against EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), said that in the inaugural Conference session, Korean ‘People Living with HIV’ (PLHIV) activists interrupted the Health Minister’s speech with a message: “No discrimination, No FTA, and enough hypocrisy!”
FTAs are economic agreements that benefit pharma-companies and richer nations, and serve to block the production of generic drugs, which causes higher HIV drug prices.
On the second day of the conference, activists conducted a large, peaceful rally against FTAs. A statement on 27 August by 84 organizations and individual supporters of the ‘Joint Action of Korean participants at ICAAP10’ stated:
“South Korean police and private security took illegal photos of people, and when people protested this, 25 people from the Busan police station and special security team from the president office who supposed to provide security service for the Fiji president, attacked people joining the march and tried to arrest people.
“Jang Seo-yeon, a member of the joint civil action group for ICAAP and a public lawyer, was arrested while protesting the illegal photo taking and police violence.”
The statement continued:
“PLHIV, sex workers, drug users and transgenders lay down in front of the police car to stop the police car. During an hour-long confrontation, several people were physically abused by police men and security guards from the conference building. Several women and transgendered women were dragged by police and in by these violent police actions, their clothes were ripped.
“Several people living with HIV/AIDS were also beaten badly and verbally abused. Two people attending the conference had to be taken to the hospital.”
ICAAP is a biennial Conference for organisations involved in the prevention, care and scientific examination of HIV/AIDS. In 2011, its main sponsors were the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific, UNAIDS, AusAid and the World Bank.
The conference offers full and partial scholarships to many people interested in attending the Conference, but overwhelmingly it is quite expensive (travel, accommodation and registration).
Mish Glitter Pony, the International Sex Worker representative of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, who attended the conference said: “We were peacefully protesting Free Trade Agreements that mean HIV treatments (ARTs) are more expensive and inaccessible to many people living with HIV.”
The statement from the Joint Action of Korean participants at ICAAP10 demanded to know why the ICAAP organizing committee allowed the police presence and did not take any action to protect people from police harassment.
The signatories to the statement also asked all UN agencies including UNAIDS and the World Health Organization to respond and prevent the police actions against basic rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
They asked the head of Busan police office to formally apologize for the illegal police surveillance and violence, for their brutal police action on women, sex workers and transgender people and to ensure that every participant at ICAAP can join any kinds of civil actions and public discussion without any harassment and intimidation by police.
So far no response has been forthcoming.
Rachel Evans is a Sydney-based freelance writer and activist. She is one of the founders of Community Action Against Homophobia and a member of the Socialist Alliance.