The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Douglas Muzanenhamo’s landmark legal application becomes the first case under the new constitutional dispensation, which was passed by President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday.
Muzanenhamo’s case was heard before new nine Constitutional Court judges, two of them Justices Ben Hlatshwayo and Bharat Patel, sworn in by Mugabe on Wednesday, in line with the country’s new constitution. The constitutional court becomes the highest court of the land after the Supreme Court which has now been converted to a court of appeal.
Muzanenhamo decided to seek redress with the Constitutional Court after he was allegedly denied access to life prolonging HIV treatment while in detention in 2011, when he was incarcerated on treason allegations.
The activist was part of a group of 44, including International Socialist Organisation leader Munyaradzi Gwisai, accused of plotting “Egyptian-style” tactics to topple President Robert Mugabe from power. The case was later thrown out, but the activists had already suffered much while in detention.
One of his lawyers, Tawanda Zhuwarara, told SW Radio Africa that not only was Muzanenhamo deliberately denied medical attention but he was denied access to his cellphone so he couldn’t call his family to bring the anti retroviral drugs.
“While in prison he was placed in solitary confinement for complaining that they were not treating him well. He also wanted to have access to his own medication while he was in a remand prison under the Zimbabwe prison Service but they were refusing to give him his own medication.”
The lawyer added: “The State objected to our application stating that there were quite a number of disputes of facts. So we managed to air out those particular issues as well as issues relating to the law – relating to how individuals are supposed to be treated in custody.”
The State denied withholding treatment and argued there are medically trained officers who are always available to make a determination of what type of drugs inmates are supposed to take. But Zhuwarara said his client was denied the ability to interrogate the qualifications of the medical officer in prison.
“In fact we don’t even know if that individual was a medical doctor but they actually gave him medication without taking his medical history. They gave him medication without making a prescription. They also gave him medication that he could not verify if they were ARVs because they were markedly different from the type of drugs that the was taking,” pointed out the lawyer.
A statement by the ZLHR said that this is not an isolated case as many other detainees are denied medical care if they are perceived to belong to certain political parties.
Muzanenhamo had been living with HIV for almost two decades but the ZLHR said: “Due to improper administration of ARVs, 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 Constitutional Court reserved its judgment to a later date.