Supreme Court hears landmark HIV case

HARARE - Zimbabwe's Supreme Court yesterday briefly heard and deferred a constitutional challenge by an HIV activist who wants the highest court to rule that denying treatment to people living with HIV held in either police or prison detention is unconstitutional.

A full bench of the Supreme Court consisting five judges and headed by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, briefly heard Douglas Muzanenhamo’s September 5, 2012 constitutional application seeking an order compelling police and prison officials to respect the rights to access medication of detainees living positively with HIV and Aids.

Muzanenhano, through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), petitioned the Supreme Court after the activist’s ordeal following his arrest on treason charges last year.

He was charged together with 44 other social justice, trade union and human rights activists, including University of Zimbabwe lecturer and International Socialist Organisation leader Munyaradzi Gwisai.

Zimbabwean authorities claimed the activists had plotted to topple President Robert Mugabe from power using “Egyptian-style” revolts.

Muzanenhamo says the meeting was to commemorate the death of an HIV/Aids activist Navigator Mungoni.

Muzanenhamo was later freed together with 38 other activists by Harare magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi.

While in detention, Muzanenhamo, who is HIV positive and has lived with the condition for the past 18 years, was denied access to his ARVs in contravention of Section 12 (1) of the Constitution. He was also denied a balanced nutritional diet commensurate with the medical regime that he was following due to his medical condition.

Due to improper administration of ARV’s, Muzanenhamo’s health condition deteriorated rapidly and his CD4 count dropped from the normal 800 to 579. Had he stayed longer in the custody of police and prison functionaries, he would have suffered more damage to his health and well-being.

The case specifically questions the constitutionality of certain practices and treatment of people living with HIV by police and prison officials.

Muzanenhamo’s lawyer, Tawanda Zhuwarara said a postponement was granted by the Supreme Court to enable the state to consider the applicant’s papers.

“We agreed both parties needed time as there had not been sufficient time to consider each’s cases,” he said. “As soon as both parties are ready, we hope the case will resume this year.”

Zhuwarara said the presence of expert witnesses will largely depend on whether the court agrees to it.

In the application, officer in charge CID Law and Order Harare and the officer commanding Harare Central District police are cited as first and second respondents respectively.

Police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri and the two co-ministers of Home Affairs Theresa Makone and Kembo Mohadi are cited as the third and fourth respondents respectively, while commissioner general of prisons Paradzai Zimondi is the sixth respondent. - Bridget Mananavire

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