“Man under arrest, suspected of infecting women with HIV” ran Vísir’s first headline on this story, early Thursday. “Suspected of infecting women with HIV” headlined RÚV a little later. “A foreign male is suspected …” their item began. Vísir’s second headline, published around noon, read: “HIV contagion: the suspect a Nigerian asylum seeker.” RÚV then cited Vísir about the man’s origins and quest for international protection, while Mbl.is seems to have been the first medium to claim intention on the man’s behalf, reporting that the man was arrested “on suspicion of deliberately infecting young women in Iceland …”.
Deliberately is the key word here. Deliberately infecting a person can constitute a criminal offence. Unknowingly infecting someone, however, cannot.
You need neither clairvoyance nor advanced degrees in sociology to predict the internet comments chasing this story from the start. After all, this was near the end of a week of just about no news, and all the country’s stockpiled hatred had to go somewhere. Throughout the following summary, you might want to look out for facts, especially relevant facts, see if any come up.
Within hours, Thursday afternoon, Vísir headlined: “The man sentenced to four weeks detention”. Finally there were pictures! Pictures Pictures! —two police officers escorting the detainee, his face hidden under a blue towel, as blue as his pants, incidentally just short enough to reveal an ankle, its dark hue. Differently angled photographs from this hardly more than one minute-long proceeding have since followed each of the story’s update in every medium, all but iconising the arrest. According to Vísir, the man was detained for the sake of “interests of the investigation, repeated offences and threat-related reasons”. According to RÚV, a Police statement announced the start of an investigation into how many women had, until that point, had relations with the man, and whether they were infected.
Thursday evening, an item run by RÚV headlined: “Up to three years in prison,” then began: “The Nigerian man suspected of having infected women with the HIV virus could face three years in prison, if he infected the women intentionally.” The story concluded: “It remains unknown how many women may have been infected, but supposedly they are numerous.” That same evening, mbl.is ran an item headlined: “Intentional contagion widely known,” upending RÚV by claiming that the man could face four years in prison; then relating a global array of anecdotes about deliberate infections, touching down, among other places, in New Zealand, Norway and Dallas.
RÚV’s final Thursday item on the story was headlined “You can visit Húð & Kyn for HIV” — referring to Landspítali’s —the National University Hospital of Iceland’s— department of skin diseases and STDs. “Women who think they may have had intercourse with the man should also,” this piece concluded, “contact the Metropolitan Area Police, phone number…” etc.
Early Friday morning, a headline in Vísir read, roughly translated: “Over a dozen women potentially infected”. Further reading reveals this as the number of women “who are currently being contacted because of this case.” According to the medium’s sources “At least one woman” is infected”. Again, Mbl.is outbids other media, claiming that two women have verifiably been infected. Vísir’s story reiterates the fact that the man has applied for asylum in Iceland, then lists his places of residence in the country so far. Again, “women who suspect they might be infected” are encouraged to contact Landspítali.
Just before noon on Friday, then, Stundin enters the game. The medium’s journalists note that the Police statement cited by other media does not claim that the detainee was aware of his infection, let alone deliberately infected others. They make an enquiry and ask the Police whether the man is suspected of having infected anyone deliberately, but receive only a “no comment” in return.
Stundin’s coverage also includes brief interviews with friends of the suspect, who state that they don’t think he was aware of his infection. Within an hour, Vísir cites Stundin and runs the headline “Will appeal detention sentence,” referring to a brief comment by the man’s lawyer which concluded Stundin’s article. Regardless, Vísir keeps claiming that the man is suspected of having infected women “intentionally,” without supporting the claim with any sources. Late Friday afternoon, Vísir once more reiterates this claim, maintaining that the man is “suspected of having intentionally infected women with HIV,” in a piece headlined: “Claims that he did not know he had HIV,” referring to the detainee’s first public statement, as mediated by his attorney.
On Saturday, Vísir ran an item accompanied by photographs of the exterior of the apartment building in which the “suspect” resided before his arrest. “According to the neighbours, young women were often seen entering the apartment,” the medium informs its readers, before naming the neighbourhood, describing which sort of building this is and for how long the man has resided there already. Vísir then quotes one of the neighbours, who speaks of a “relentless traffic” and commotion around the apartment, concluding: “I always knew there was something strange going on”.
Early Sunday, RÚV finally reports that, according to public records, the asylum seeker, now detainee, has not undergone any medical examination since his arrival in Iceland in August of last year.
In other words, not only has no evidence been revealed to support claims that the migrant-patient-suspect, now detainee, ever knowingly infected others: on the contrary public records indicate, as far as they go, that the man was, in fact, unaware of his predicament. Until, that is, last week. If this is the case, then Iceland —basically the whole country, since the Metropolitan Police involved the Surgeon General, the Reykjavík district Court and the media in this affair— just arrested and detained a man for having HIV.
The only facts of the matter made public so far, are that, presumably, the “suspect” at some point got infected by someone—in Nigeria, Iceland or elsewhere— and later on he, in turn, infected someone else.
Since guesswork seems to have become a legitimate modus operandi for news coverage, let’s fill in the blanks: Following the police operation and the accompanying police statement, major news media did their best, by and large, to make the whole procedure seem legit: Since the man was detained, he must be guilty of some offence, they seem to have reasoned, if unconsciously so —and if the Police forgot to mention which specific offence, since carrying an infection is not, in itself, a crime, our interest in pulp literature sure comes in handy…
Three days in a row, reporters slandered, insinuating that the man knowingly and deliberately infected others, while comment threads and Facebook feeds went under waves of shock and awe about the unknown man’s obvious monstrosity, in case of right wing enthusiasts, or his alleged monstrosity, in case of the country’s more liberal half. A saddening number of supposed Leftists jumped in the line, spewing hatred on the stranger, while taking care, of course, to frame their bile as hypothetical statements and concerns, along the lines of “If this man is guilty of having intentionally infected the women, then what this piece of shit deserves is…” the worst, basically.
The country’s most shamelessly racist elements predictably had a field day. Journalists will be quick to explain that a journalist’s only duty is to guess the facts, guess them fast, and without any scruples, and that failing to report your most outrageous guess as to what might have happened, due to concerns, for example, over potential readers’ hate-drivel, would be nothing short of PCGM.
As critic Ásgeir H. Ingólfsson pointed out, in 2011 a local addict was suspected of having infected numerous individuals of HIV through shared needles. The Reykjavík District Court ruled against her detention, making her promise, instead, that she would cease all risky behavior. In that case, also, the media seem to have taken care not to run photos or publish any information which might give away the woman’s identity.
Wherein, then, lies the difference? If, this time, there is nothing to indicate that any offence was committed, why would the Police lock up a Nigerian HIV patient? Any suggestions? Any idea?
Migrants’ reverend Toshiki Toma wrote an important article to note the absurdity of repeating and emphasising the man’s status as “asylum seeker” throughout all the media coverage of his infection. As of yet, however, it seems reasonable to doubt whether the media would have had any story at all, if not for the man’s identity and origins.
It is possible, of course, that some evidence, as of yet unrevealed, will later demonstrate that the detainee really did arrive in the land of the idiotic, home of the glee, only to purposefully infect its population with a potentially fatal, if treatable, virus. Until any such evidence is at least implied, preferably seen, this last week’s chain of events looks like a pretty drastic, albeit brainless, nation-wide exercise in racial discrimination.