An HIV-positive Zimbabwean man who was denied medication while detained on treason charges last year has launched a legal battle for prisoners to be allowed access to ARVs, his lawyer said Monday.
In a landmark case, Douglas Muzanenhamo, who was infected 18 years ago, wants an end to the ill-treatment of prisoners who are sometimes denied access to medical facilities of their choice and medicine from family while in custody.
Muzanenhamo was refused access to the life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) in 2011 after his arrest along with 44 other rights activists on allegations of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.
The activists had been attending a meeting to talk about lessons from the so-called Arab Spring and were accused of scheming to overthrow Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980.
“What we are asking them is that they should take direct and immediate measures to protect people with HIV or AIDS in prisons or when they are arrested,” Tawanda Zhuwarara, Muzanenhamo’s lawyer told AFP.
Zhuwarara said the case is the first of its kind trying to seek dignity in the treatment of people who are HIV-positive in Zimbabwean prisons.
In his affidavit to the Supreme Court, Muzanenhamo said he was kept in ghastly conditions and was denied permission to take his medication.
“I was made to sleep on the hard concrete slab in the cell. It was not just cold and inhuman but the cells were also filthy and had human excreta and dried blood all over the place.”
His treatment at the hand of prisoners worsened his condition, he continued.
“I was subjected to cold baths and the diet was not appropriate for a person with HIV. We were fed with stale bread, black tea, sadza (cornmeal porridge) and beans,” he said.
“It was hardly a balanced diet suitable for a person living with HIV and on ARVs. There were no fruits, vegetables, milk or peanut butter which are now essential elements of my diet.”
“The conditions I was placed in placed my life in real mortal danger. I cannot fend off infection in the same way a healthy human being can. My immune system is compromised.”
Zimbabwe’s jails have been condemned by rights groups as unfit for human habitation.