Chinese prisoner who contracted HIV in prison wins US$14,000 payout

Zhuang Pinghui

A Chinese prison inmate who contracted HIV while behind bars has been awarded 100,000 yuan (US$14,300) in compensation, despite asking for almost 8.5 million yuan.

Zhao Ronghui, 46, who is paralysed from the waist down, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of a woman he was trying to rob in 2008.

Records show that he was not infected with the virus when he was admitted to Siping Prison in northeast China’s Jilin province later the same year. He was also tested for HIV in each of the following two years and both tests came back negative.

The virus showed up in his system only in 2011 when he was being treated at the Jilin Prison Management Administration Central Hospital after swallowing a metal object. A subsequent six tests between 2014 and last year confirmed he was HIV positive.

Zhao began his legal battle in 2011 by filing a complaint with the prison authority in Jilin. Photo: Weibo

Zhao began his legal battle in 2011 by filing a complaint with the prison authority in Jilin. He appealed for compensation but was told he could not have contracted HIV in prison.

In 2013 the case was rejected on the grounds that prisons are not classed as “administrative government agencies”. Two years later he filed an application for state compensation with the Siping prison and later with provincial prison management administration but those were also rejected.

In 2016, Zhao appealed to the Jilin High People’s Court and also lost, so he took his case to the Supreme People’s Court, the highest court in the land, which ordered the provincial high court to review the case.

Zhao is a prisoner at Siping Prison in Jilin province. Photo: Handout

The Jilin High People’s Court found Zhao had spent much of his prison time in hospitals within the prison system, mostly in a single room with designated attending staff.

However, another patient, who was known to have HIV, frequently visited Zhao to chat, play chess or carry Zhao to the toilet.

The court agreed Zhao did not have HIV before being admitted to prison and therefore must have contracted it while he was behind bars. It could not determine exactly when or how that happened but said it might have been linked to his interactions with the other inmate, as Zhao had open wounds on his feet.

Prisoner got inmates to dig tunnel so he could come and go at will

The Jilin court awarded Zhao 100,000 yuan but the prisoner was not satisfied and appealed again to the Supreme People’s Court, asking for 8.49 million yuan.

The top court ruled last month that while the prison was mostly to blame for not segregating inmates with HIV/Aids, Zhao should shoulder some of the responsibility for allowing the other inmate into his room.

As all costs relating to Zhao’s illness and disability had been covered by the prison the award of 100,000 yuan for mental distress was appropriate, the court said, adding that after he was released from prison he could sue again for money to cover his medical treatment.

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