She's young, she's sexy and she's a star. But Nadja Benaissa, the singer in Germany's top all-girl band "No Angels" is now sitting in a Frankfurt prison cell on remand. The 26 year-old was arrested on April 11 on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm. State prosecutors accuse her of having had sex with three men without telling them that she was HIV positive. News of Benaissa's arrest has filled Germany's tabloid newspapers while websites have been deluged with postings from distraught fans.
Adding to the sense of drama, police arrested the glamorous singer just before she hit the stage at a nightclub in Frankfurt, where she was due to give a solo concert. "Nadja Benaissa had unprotected sex with three men in 2004 and 2006, and although she knew that she herself was HIV positive, she didn't tell them," Ger Neuber, a prosecutor in the city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, tells TIME. "Her former lover filed charges against her last year. He is HIV positive and suspects that she is responsible. We arrested her and she's been remanded in custody because there is a danger that she might repeat this." (See pictures of the global fight against AIDS.)
German prosecutors have apparently been investigating the case since last June and their inquiry is ongoing. "There have been other similar cases in Germany," says Neuber, "but this is unusual because Ms Benaissa is such a celebrity." If found guilty, the singer faces a sentence of up to ten years in prison. Many of her fans say they were shocked to hear the news and according to reports in the German media, they say they're standing by their girl. "Stay strong Nadja," one fan wrote on a website.
Benaissa was born in Frankfurt and has a Moroccan father and a Serbian-German mother. She made her name in 2000, when she and four other young women beat 4,500 other hopefuls in the German version of the reality TV show "Popstars." Recruited to join the band "No Angels" (think Germany's answer to the Spice Girls) they became overnight hits, selling more than five million records and notching up four chart toppers including one in Brazil. The band split in 2003, burnt-out after their rocket to fame. Four of the original five, including Benaissa, reformed in 2007 and went on to represent Germany at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade. Their catchy single "Disappear" failed to impress the Euro judges finishing 23rd.
Band manager, Khalid Schroeder says Benaissa's arrest is the result of "a witch-hunt against Nadja. She is being prejudged. The investigation is still continuing and there are no hard facts yet. This is unfair. We want her to be released as soon as possible."
On April 15, Benaissa's legal team successfully filed an injunction in the Berlin State against the Springer publishing group, owners of newspapers Bild and Welt, banning publication of the inquiry and circumstances of the detention of Nadja Benaissa. Many German media outlets continue to report the case however and Springer is appealing the decision.
AIDS groups have criticised the authorities' handling of the arrest and have warned against a rush to criminalise the transmission of HIV. "Based on the information that we have about the detention of Nadja Benaissa, we think she should be released," says Carolin Vierneisel, a spokeswoman for the AIDS organisation Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe. "When it comes to consensual sex, whether protected or unprotected, we talk about shared responsibility," she says. "The criminalisation of HIV transmission, as shown in this case, doesn't support HIV prevention efforts. On the contrary, it fosters the stigmatisation of HIV positive people."
The band's management say "No Angels" is planning to go on tour in the summer and a new album is due out in the next couple of months. For now, the show goes on.