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ED urged to release prisoners after HIV transmission decriminalized

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been urged to release prisoners locked up over HIV crimes after he recently signed a law that decriminalized HIV transmission. Before that any act of HIV transmission could result in a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Clause 53 of the Marriages Amendment Bill signed by Mnangagwa in March effectively stripped criminal penalties in cases where an individual either knowingly or unknowingly exposes their sexual partner to HIV.

There are 72 countries at the moment that are still criminalising willful transmission of HIV. These nations include but not limited to Russia, Belarus, USA, Ukraine, Canada and Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, France and Taiwan.

Health and Child Care Parliamentary Portfolio Committee chairperson, Dr Ruth Labode last Tuesday said Zimbabwe was no longer part of the list after it successfully de-criminalised willful transmission of HIV.

“I rise on a matter of national interest. The world is celebrating our two milestones that we achieved through the Marriages Bill. We successfully criminalised Child Marriages and we also successfully de-criminalised willful transmission of HIV.

“Mr. Speaker Sir, globally, there are 72 countries at the moment that are still criminalising willful transmission of HIV. Zimbabwe has finally extracted itself from the top ranks of rogue countries that are throwing people in jails for something that they cannot approve of.

“These countries are Russia, Belarus, USA, Ukraine, Canada, Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, France and Taiwan. We now thank God that Zimbabwe is no longer part of that,” Dr Labode said in the National Assembly.

She added: “I will give you a quote, Justice Cameroon of South Africa, a constitutional judge says ‘HIV criminalisation makes HIV control worse than it is. It is unacceptable and there is no proof as to who infected who and at what stage in a relationship’.

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“It undermines scientific advancement and public health strategies that opened a path to vanquishing HIV by 2030.”

She thanked Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who made the process successful.

Dr Labode urged President Emmerson Mnangagwa to exercise his amnesty powers to release prisoners serving a 15 to 20-year term in jail for having been alleged to have willfully transmitted HIV.

“I also want to thank the Minister of Justice, Hon. Ziyambi for having the courage to bring the Bill here. It was very controversial indeed and I want to thank the CSOs for capacitating the Members of Parliament to come to where we are.

“I now want to ask the President of Zimbabwe to take a further step in this regard to now please use his powers, I do not know whatever name they call it, when he normally declares for amnesty to release every prisoner who is in jail serving a 15 to 20-year term in jail for having been alleged to have willful transmitted HIV to be released.

“Also, can His Excellency the President also consider those who are awaiting judgment like Samukeliso Moyo whose husband of 7 years claimed that she had given him HIV and she is awaiting judgment,” she said.

The Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda responded: “You raised some valid points that a law has been put in place accented to by His Excellency the President, so those who were affected prior will have to perhaps look into your suggestion by bringing it to the attention of His Excellency the President.”

In a statement, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) claimed the now repealed law was a major “driver of stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV and other key populations.”

“Public health goals are not served by denying people their individual rights and I commend Zimbabwe for taking this hugely important step,” said UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima in a statement.

“This decision strengthens the HIV response in Zimbabwe by reducing the stigma and discrimination that too often prevents vulnerable groups of people from receiving HIV prevention, care and treatment services.” Nehanda Radio