Prosecution, defence appeal after man is jailed 1 year for not telling sexual partners he is HIV-positive

SINGAPORE - Both the prosecution and the defence have filed appeals against the one-year sentence of a HIV-positive man who had sex with two men without informing them of his condition.

The public prosecutor lodged an appeal on Thursday morning (June 9), while the man's lawyers, Mr Sunil Sudheesan and Ms Joyce Khoo, had filed their appeal on Tuesday.

The court heard on Tuesday that the man's viral load - the amount of virus in his body - was so low that there was effectively no risk of transmission to a sexual partner.

The 48-year-old man, who cannot be named owing to a gag order, was convicted after he pleaded guilty to one charge under the Infectious Diseases Act.

He had not informed one sexual partner of his condition in October 2019 and another partner in April last year, while investigations into his earlier encounter were ongoing.

Under Section 23(1) of the act, it is an offence for anyone with HIV not to inform his or her sexual partners of the risk of contracting HIV infection from him or her.

The court heard on Tuesday that the man, a public relations consultant, was diagnosed with HIV in July 2017 and had been receiving treatment for his condition. His viral load was found to be undetectable and borderline between November 2017 and January this year.

A doctor was of the view there was "effectively no risk of transmission of HIV from a person with an undetectable viral load to a sexual partner".

The first victim said he had not been told of the accused's HIV-positive status before they had sex at the man's home in October 2019.

While investigations were ongoing, another victim, aged 25, made a police report on Sept 30 last year, saying that the man had performed oral sex on him without disclosing his HIV-positive status. The sexual act was performed without a condom at the accused's home on April 24 last year.

Prosecutor for the Ministry of Health (MOH), Mr Andre Moses Tan, urged the court to impose a jail term of 24 months, noting that the accused had reoffended while being investigated and that there were two victims involved.

Mr Sudheesan and Ms Khoo argued for a high fine without a jail term, noting that there was "effectively no risk of transmission" and that their client's undetectable viral load was a result of his strict adherence to treatment.

"Afraid of the stigma against HIV, our client erroneously omitted to disclose the risk of transmission when it is zero," said the lawyers.

For failing to inform a sexual partner of the risk of contracting HIV infection, the man could have been jailed for up to 10 years, or fined up to $50,000, or both.

In a letter to The Straits Times following news of the man's sentence, president of Action for Aids (AfA) Singapore, Professor Roy Chan, said AfA was disturbed by the case in the light of current medical evidence on transmission of the virus and urged MOH to review the Infectious Diseases Act.

He noted that it has been scientifically proven that people living with HIV who are treated with anti-retroviral medications and have suppressed viral loads in their bloodstream cannot transmit the HIV virus to their sexual partners.

"Persons living with HIV are still heavily stigmatised in society and the publicity which these cases brings makes things worse for them. It also undoes the work that AfA and other organisations have been doing to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination and reduces the effectiveness of the HIV control programme," said Prof Chan.

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