MOSCOW — A group of Russian gay activists launched a campaign on Feb. 6 demanding their government stop requesting foreign visa applicants for their HIV status.

In three letters sent to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Prime Minster Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, the activists asked for the cancellation of a 1995 law preventing the “spread” of HIV in Russia, specifically article 10.

The law, signed by former President Boris Yeltsin, bans HIV-positive foreigners from staying in Russia for more than three months. It does not apply to diplomats and members of international organizations.

In practical application, Russian consulates request a compulsory HIV test within one year from any foreigner applying for a visa which requests a stay above three months.

“Requesting HIV status in a visa application can be considered as an intrusion to private life in the definition of article 8 of the European Convention for Human Rights,” commented Russian LGBT leader and activist Nikolai Alekseev. “However, it has not yet been challenged at the European Court yet.”

Russia and Armenia are the only countries who are Council of Europe members to impose a partial travel ban on HIV-positive foreigners.

Eleven countries around the world ban or limit the rights of HIV-positive people to enter their territories, including Colombia, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Sudan and Yemen. Although the U.S. Congress passed a measure lifting the ban six months ago, the ban has not been fully lifted here.

In June 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to discriminatory travel restrictions based on HIV status.

“This absurd policy prevents some talented HIV-positive foreigners from living and working in Russia,” said Nikolai Baev from

Activists further revealed that they recently tested the application of a multiple entry visa by an HIV-positive foreigner.

“Last October, we asked Michael Petrelis, a well known U.S. gay, HIV+ advocate, to apply for a one year visa at the San Francisco Consulate,” Alekseev explained. “He enclosed a HIV-positive test in his application and received a visa with a right to stay only 90 days.”

The Russian law, whose initial aim was to protect the country from the risk of the spread of the epidemic, is no longer in line with the current medical research on HIV transmission.

“The disease is spread when safe sex is not practiced or drug users share needles … it is important to make education the key component to stopping HIV in Russia,” Alekseev added. “The problem of HIV infections rising in Russia, like in USA and EU, is not when foreigners with HIV visit, but instead the lack of full and honest messages about using condoms and not sharing needles to halt new infections.”

The mayor of Moscow, one of the most homophobic politicians in Russia, received heavy criticism last December after he declared that safe sex practices only worsened the expansion of AIDS.

“Some companies insist that condoms are a safe guarantee against AIDS but contemporary science proved that it is not the case,” the mayor said, adding that “the slogan that condoms protect against AIDS 100 percent is used by manufacturing companies to increase their distribution markets.”

“The Russian government should think whether it wants its nationals to face the same discrimination when travelling abroad,” Baev said.

Last year, activists from successfully obtained from the Russian government the end of the ban on blood donation by gays after a two years campaign involving letters and demos.

In October 2009 Moscow will host the third International Conference on HIV/AIDS for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The campaign in Russia is being backed by the Chicago-based group Gay Liberation Network in the USA.

— Originally published by and translated by Andy Harley, editor of UK Gay News. See more at

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