Stats SA Aids dissident found guilty

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A Statistics SA employee, accused of vandalising a Wikipedia entry and sending threatening e-mails to the Aids Foundation of SA (AFSA), has been found guilty, says Stats SA spokesman Trevor Oosterwyk.

In August, ITWeb revealed a Stats SA employee had made material changes to the Wikipedia entry on "HIV/Aids in South Africa". The culprit deleted all information, except for a section on government's action plan.

A month later, ITWeb revealed a Stats SA employee had sent threatening e-mails to AFSA, proclaiming HIV/Aids does not exist and that the organisation was seeking to make money from others' misery.

At the time, the agency would not comment on whether the same person was responsible for both incidents. Oosterwyk has since confirmed that only one employee was involved.

Penalties imposed

The disciplinary hearing that followed saw the employee found guilty of contravening Stats SA's Internet and e-mail usage policy, as well as the Public Service Act.

"As a result of the guilty finding, the employee has been barred from accessing the Internet for a period of six months. Also, he will work with our employee assistance programme," says Oosterwyk.

AFSA deputy director Nozuko Majola refuses to comment on the penalty, but says she is glad the person will get some help.

"It is not the first time we have been exposed to such ignorance and I doubt it will be the last. This person obviously has some issues that are presenting themselves in this kind of action. Hopefully, Stats SA can get him through these and help him to understand the nature of HIV/Aids," she says.

Slap on the wrist

However, the University of Johannesburg's head of the department of politics, Dr Pieter Fourie, says the repercussions are "unsurprisingly light".

"I was one of the people impacted by these actions - the person deleted references to my book on Aids from Wikipedia. To be frank, the 'punishment' is flimsy at best. But how can we be surprised when we see the line that government itself is taking on the HIV/Aids issue?"

Sandy Kalyan, the Democratic Alliance's spokesperson on health and HIV/Aids, also dismisses the actions as little more than a "slap on the wrist".

"This is a very serious offence and the person involved got off very lightly. Can Stats SA even monitor this person's adherence to the no Internet sentence? We would have liked to see more punitive actions taken," she says.

Step up action

In light of the recent release of the UNAids 2007 report - which named SA as having the highest prevalence rate in the world - Majola urges government to boost its education programme.

"One thing that has come out of the Stats SA event is that we need to step up our education efforts. Government must take the issue out of the Department of Health and educate all its employees. The HIV/Aids movement has focused mostly on the poor; we need to ensure we get the message across that this virus can impact on anyone," she says.

Kalyan says government needs to learn how to use the Acts it has promulgated. "We can't let this type of action go lightly or unpunished. We have the legislation in place to deal with these issues. We must use them properly."

Related stories:
Threatening e-mails linked to Stats SA
Stats SA suspends censor suspect
Govt attempts Wikipedia censorship
DA walks out of censorship Bill hearings
Global online censorship rising fast
New tool outs Wiki tricksters

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