Bizarre state involvement in AIDS conference

Security agency leads media accreditation process

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Photo of candle lighting ceremony
A candle lighting ceremony at the previous International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia in 2014. Photo courtesy of IAS

The South African State Security Agency (SSA) is leading the accreditation process for media delegates attending the 2016 International AIDS Conference, and quite possibly all delegates. This is according to emails being received by media delegates, the conference website and a government webpage. Attendees are also being advised to arrive at least 45 minutes early to have the time to complete the accreditation process.

Media delegates received a document by email stating that at the conference they should, “… please proceed to Accreditation, which is led by the South African State Security Agency.” (emphasis precisely as in the original)

The conference website states, “Anyone entering the conference centre in Durban will first need to appear in person at the accreditation office managed by the South African State Security Agency.”

A Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS) webpage states, “Members of the media are invited to apply for accreditation to cover the event by completing the online registration form on the link”

Following the links eventually takes you to the conference website’s registration page. (The deadline for media registration has passed.)

The webpage also directs accreditation enquiries to members of GCIS.

Yet Kristina Collins of the International AIDS Society (IAS), which hosts the event, told GroundUp that the IAS “is leading the media accreditation [process] by evaluating the media credentials submitted by media. The SSA is not involved in the selection of media attending the conference.”

She continued, “Due to the large global engagement of high level government officials and VIPs at AIDS 2016, the SSA mandated and directed a series of security protocols for all conference attendees. We recommend you contact their spokesperson / communications team for further details on this as it was mandated by them. This is a normal practice in South Africa for events of similar size with this level of participation.”

Brian Dube, Head of Communications for the SSA assured GroundUp that all national and international events of this magnitude are handled in this manner. He cited the World Cup as an example. 

But Marcus Low, editor of Spotlight (previously known as NSP Review), a magazine that monitors the South African government’s response to AIDS, said, “I’ve never encountered this at any conference. It seems a clear over-reach to me.”

Alex Hotz of Right2Know told GroundUp, “I’m very wary of it because there are members of the LGBTI community and sex workers attending. They have a right to privacy. Some of them are facing criminal violations in their home countries. It puts them at risk to go through this.”

The International AIDS Conference is the largest conference in the world dealing with the HIV epidemic. It is held every two years. The last time it was in South Africa was in 2000. It was at that conference where the view that HIV treatment should be made available in developing countries became ascendant. It was to the opening of that conference that the Treatment Action Campaign led the first large AIDS protest in the country – about 5,000 people.

About 18,000 delegates are expected to attend the conference later this month.

TOPICS:  AIDS2016 Health HIV

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