Ex-detainee fights on for the rights of HIV-positive prisoners

Prisons are by their very nature not holiday breaks and prisoners do expect to forfeit a certain degree of freedom, but this should not extend to basic rights such as access to treatment, an ex-detainee has said.

Speaking onThursday rights activist Douglas Muzanenhamo, who has been living with HIV for 19 years, said conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons are “hell on earth”.

“There is filth everywhere, the corridors, the holding cells, the blankets, and the prison regalia. When I was arrested and taken to Harare Remand Prison, I was given dirty and lice-infested clothes. I was thrown into a filthy, overcrowded cell where we had buckets for toilets,” Muzanenhamo said.

Muzanenhamo was arrested at a meeting, together with 44 others in February 2011, for allegedly plotting an Egypt-style coup, a crime punishable with death. He was acquitted and released after a month in remand prison, mostly in solitary confinement.

Muzanenhamo said the meeting had nothing to do with toppling the government, but was a memorial to a fellow HIV/AIDS activist, Navigator Mungoni.

He told SW Radio Africa on The Big Picture programme that what he experienced during that brief spell in prisonwill haunt him for the rest of his life.

In May Muzanenhamo lodged a Constitutional Court application, challenging the ill-treatment of prisoners and demanding better conditions within the prisons.

“Generally conditions are deplorable, but things are doubly worse for those with conditions such as HIV or AIDS and require medication.

“For example in my case, prison officers withheld my anti-retroviral drugs, despite the fact that I had not been sentenced. Sometimes I would be given one tablet instead of two, or be told that my medication times fall outside the prison officers’ shift times and would have to go without,” Muzanenhamo said.

The situation was not helped by the poor diet which Muzanenhamo said consisted mainly of sadza (maize meal) and beans and stale, mouldy bread.

“Being HIV positive requires a balanced diet and this is not expensive: for example they could give prisoners porridge with peanut butter in the morning, sadza and beans or if its cabbage – add some cooking oil.

“Prisoners have no warm clothing, and at night there is a shortage of blankets which is not good for those with health conditions. I was always cold,” he said.

As a result Muzanenhamo’s immunity was severely compromised and he fell ill. However, he feels he was lucky that he was able to speak out and challenge what he saw as the violation of his rights by prison officials.

“So when I was released, I decided to make people aware of what happens behind bars in closed environments such as the prisons. The Constitutional Court case was just one way I felt I could do this.”

The case was heard in May but the court withheld judgement, something which Muzanenhamo says has disappointed, but not discouraged him.

Through the case, Muzanenhamo says he had hoped that there will be a review of how the prison officials, treat inmates.

“They need to recognise that despite their incarceration, prisoners are still human being with basic human rights.

“Prisoners should also be allowed access to their own doctors. All the court needed to do was just make that declaration, rather than to reserve judgement,” he added. – SW Radio Africa News

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *