The case of O.G. and Others v. Greece (applications nos. 71555/12 and 48256/13) concerned the publication, by decision of the domestic authorities, of medical data concerning sex workers who had been diagnosed as HIV-positive, and media coverage of them. It also concerned the circumstances in which they were required to undergo a blood test.
The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been two violations:
a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human
Rights, with regard to two applicants, on account of the blood tests they had been required to undertake. The Court considered that the blood samples imposed on two applicants had amounted to an interference with their private life and noted that this had not been in accordance with the law within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention, given that the provisions of domestic law in issue ought to have been foreseeable with regard to their effects for the applicants. In particular, the Court noted that none of the provisions cited by the Government had been capable of justifying a medical intervention, whether carried out by police officers or doctors, such as that imposed on the applicants concerned.
The Court also found a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention with regard to four applicants, on account of the publication of data concerning them. The Court considered that the publication of the four applicants’ data had amounted to a disproportionate interference with their right to respect for private life. These applicants’ names and photographs and the information that they were HIV-positive, had been downloaded to the police department’s website and broadcast by the media, and the prosecutor had not attempted to establish whether other measures, capable of ensuring less media exposure of the applicants, could have been taken in their cases.
Lastly, the Court decided to strike parts of the applications out of its list where they concerned five applicants, four of whom had died. It also dismissed the complaints of certain applicants as being out of time or for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
In 2012 the Athens’ police department gathered up and arrested ten of the eleven applicants due to their involvement in sex work. Upon their arrests the applicants were forced to undergo a blood test/medical screening which identified them as being HIV positive. They were subsequently charged with “intentionally attempting to inflict serious bodily harm” as well as the offence of “inflicting simple harm”. The prosecutor then ordered that their names, photographs, HIV positive status and the charges levied against them be released to the public in accordance with Greek law. This dissemination of their information received widespread media coverage for several days. The eleventh applicant, who was not one of the charged women, was then alerted by a friend that her name and photo were being mistakenly broadcast in lieu of her sisters’ (one of the ten sex workers arrested).
The five of the ten initial applicants alleged that they had never consented to the blood test and thus their right a private life was violated.
This judgement is a step forward for the rights of sex workers. While the stigma against sex workers has decreased in the western world, they often still face legal and social isolation. This judgment is acknowledgement while that some measures are permissible to protect public health, they need to be proportionate and protect the rights of sex workers as far as is practicable.