HIV+ activist challenges ill-treatment in detention

HARARE - A human rights activist denied access to treatment while in detention is finally having his day in court.

Douglas Muzanenhamo was arrested on February 19, 2011 and charged with committing treason together with 44 other social justice, trade union and human rights activists, including University of Zimbabwe lecturer and International Socialist Organisation-Zimbabwe Chapter leader Munyaradzi Gwisai.

The state claimed they were plotting to topple the government the same way dictators in some Arab countries were ousted through popular mass protests.

While in detention, Muzanenhamo, who is HIV positive and has lived with the condition for the past 18 years, was denied access to his life-prolonging ARV drugs in contravention of Section 12 (1) of the Constitution.

Stung by the harsh treatment, Muzanenhamo filed a constitutional application at the Supreme Court challenging the ill-treatment of people living with HIV in detention by police and prison officials.

The Supreme Court has now written to Muzanenhamo informing him that the case has been set down for 15 November.

“Take notice that the above Constitutional Application will be heard and determined by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe at Harare on Thursday the 15th day of November 2012 at 09:30 or so soon thereafter as counsel may be heard,” reads a Supreme Court letter dated 22 October.

Tawanda Zhuwarara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights ((ZLHR)) is representing Muzanenhamo.

In taking up the case, ZLHR said it found it pertinent to speak out and defend the pre-trial rights of suspects in police and prison detention.

“The landmark case questions the constitutionality of certain practices and treatment of people living with HIV in detention by police and prison officials,” said Zhuwarara.

“We are seeking an order compelling police and prison officials to respect the rights to access medication of detainees living positively with HIV/Aids. Every individual who is HIV positive, and gets incarcerated in their facilities, and who has notified them about his or her condition must also be given an opportunity to access anti-retroviral drugs (ARV)’s medication as prescribed by medical practitioners,” said Zhuwarara.

Muzanenhamo argues the meeting had nothing to do with toppling the government as he was attending a meeting to commemorate the death of an HIV/Aids activist Navigator Mungoni.

The entire treason case later spectacularly collapsed with all the accused walking free. But that was not without some suffering.

“Functionaries of the Zimbabwe Prison Service also perpetuated Muzanenhamo’s suffering when they denied him access to his medication during his detention in prison. He was also denied a balanced nutritional diet commensurate with the medical regime that he was following due to his medical condition,” said Zhuwarara. — LM

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