HIV+ Zim prisoners take Botswana to court

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GABORONE High Court judge Justice Bengbame Sechele last week reserved judgement in a case in which two HIV-infected Zimbabwean prisoners took the government of Botswana to court challenging its policy of refusing anti-retroviral treatment to foreign inmates.

Wongai Zhangazha

The Botswana government provides non-citizen prisoners with treatment for opportunistic infections, such as tuberculosis.

However, they are expected to finance their own HIV treatment.
The two Zimbabwean HIV-positive prisoners, Dickson Tapela and Mbuso Piye, who are represented by Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and Aids (Bonela) with the assistance of Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), argue that the government’s policy is unlawful and unconstitutional.

In their heads of arguments heard last week at the Gaborone High Court, the prisoners who are serving sentences at Gaborone Central Prison said the Botswana policy denies the prisoners “the right to life, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, discrimination and inequality”.

Tapela said he last had his CD4 count tested in August 2012 while Piye had his tested in August 2009, therefore under the Botswana’s Treatment Guidelines they are both required to be enrolled under its Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Treatment.

In response, the Botswana government said the court did not have the power to review a decision of the executive arm of government, arguing “that would amount to the interference with the functions of an independent arm of government contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers”.

Zimbabwe Prison Services spokesperson Elizabeth Banda said all prisoners in the country were treated equally.

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