Zambia High Court hears case on rights of HIV-positive prisoners: Update from the Courtroom

Salc : Staff Writer

On Monday, the Zambia High Court heard arguments in Mwanza and Another v Attorney General, a case challenging the poor prison conditions and the lack of adequate food provided to HIV-positive prisoners on treatment in the Lusaka Central Prison.You can read the case summary here.

The case began with the direct examination of the first petitioner, George Mwanza, by his advocate, followed by cross-examination by the state’s advocate. Judge J.K. Kabuka was very attentive during Mwanza’s testimony, interjecting several times to ensure that he was being questioned fairly and that he understood the questions. The courtroom was full of HIV activists in white t-shirts with “HIV positive” written on the front and “I am a prisoner. I have a right to good nutrition too.” on the back.

During his direct examination, Mwanza stated that he is HIV-positive and currently incarcerated at Lusaka Central Prison for the offence of defilement; that he was taken into prison in 2008 after his arrest and was only sentenced in early 2012; and that he is currently on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) and is also taking drugs for tuberculosis.

Mwanza further testified that his doctor instructed him to take his ART at a specific time with adequate nutrition. However, he noted that he faces various difficulties in securing ART due to a lack of warders to escort him to a clinic.

He also noted that he does not receive adequate food both in terms of quality and quantity. He testified that he has been receiving a cup of cooked maize meal in the morning and a cup of nshima and rotten kapenta, an anchovy-like fish, in the afternoon. Mwanza submitted a sample of the kapenta to the court as evidence of how it is rotten and highlighted that in the other two prisons in which he had been incarcerated the diet was the same. Mwanza also stated that the prison conditions at Lusaka Central Prison are poor as the cells are not well ventilated and are unsanitary. He testified that such poor conditions give rise to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. Judge Kabuka took judicial notice of the poor prison conditions, meaning that the Court agreed that the prison conditions are poor.

The state advocate cross-examined Mwanza and focused her questioning on when he had been diagnosed with HIV. There was some confusion as Mwanza claimed he had been diagnosed in 2011, while she pointed out that his affidavit indicated that he was placed on ART before being incarcerated in 2008. Mwanza stated that he was diagnosed and put on treatment in 2011.

The state advocate also questioned Mwanza on what constituted adequate food according to his doctor and what he currently received in prison, including any supplementary food he may have received from charities which bring food for prisoners. Mwanza stated his diet was supposed to include dry fish, meat, rice and various kinds of fruits and that he had only received an egg as supplementary food.

Mwanza also stated under cross-examination that he had suffered from tuberculosis, a rash and persistent diarrhea and had medical records for the tuberculosis

In re-direct examination by his advocate, Mwanza confirmed that it was the prison authority’s responsibility to ensure that he received adequate nutrition.

The hearing was concluded with the Judge enquiring about any other witnesses to the court and both advocates highlighted that they will be calling other witnesses, but were not prepared at the time to call them. Thus, the matter was postponed to 11 March 2013.

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