Picture from the Australian National Portrait Gallery
Though I was more than happy to hear that Paul French would once again get a chance to talk about Shanghai’s sordid past (and that, despite the amount of time he had to prepare for it, it was “very entertaining”) , it was disheartening to learn why Robert Dessaix, the author French subbed for at the Shanghai International Literary Festival this weekend, couldn’t come – because somebody in the visa office didn’t like how Dessaix was HIV-positive.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Dessaix had to cancel not only his appearance at SILF, but also speaking engagements at universities and bookshops in Beijing and Chengdu:
Dessaix, who has never been to China, put in his visa application four weeks ago. The guidelines for the application stated that HIV status had no prejudicial bearing. In good faith, he declared it.
Dessaix had had no political involvement in matters concerning China, and said he had been told by Australian officials that although China did not give reasons for the visa refusal, his health status was the issue.
Dessaix said he felt “snubbed and insulted, of course, and also humiliated… There had been interventions at the highest level on my behalf, but they were refused, so I see it as a snub to Australia, not just to me.”
While the knee jerk reaction is probably to roll ones eyes and shrug about this being China, I was personally surprised. I guess the general news regarding AIDS/HIV in this country has been more on the positive side – not only has the country been improving education for the most vulnerable and rolling out anti-HIV/AIDS discrimination campaigns, it’s also given HIV/AIDS NGOs legal status and started congratulating its AIDS whistleblowers rather than exiling them.
But I suppose Dessaix’s recent visa troubles again reminds us that there’s still a lot more to fight for. Discrimination, it seems, still runs rampant… even in places that are officially supposed to toe the line.