THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health chairperson, Dr Ruth Labode says they have already lobbied President Emerson Mnangwa through the Speaker of Parliament seeking amnesty for everyone who was imprisoned on the grounds of wilful transmission of HIV.
By Michael Gwarisa in Mazowe
The development follows Parliament of Zimbabwe’s recent repealing of section 79 of the Criminal Law Code, which criminalized wilful HIV transmission. According to the National Aids Council (NAC), Zimbabwe currently has the highest rate of HIV criminalization prosecutions in Sub-Saharan Africa and the sixth highest in the world. latest statistics indicate that as at April 2021, Zimbabwe had 18 individuals who have been arrested, prosecuted, convicted for wilful transmission of HIV.
Speaking during a NAC workshop for editors and station managers currently underway Mazowe, Dr Labode said the road to decriminalize wilful transmission has been a long and arduous journey.
I made a request in Parliament on a privilege point, I asked the President officially through the speaker to say can the President now use his amnesty powers to make sure that everybody that was imprisoned because of this law be granted amnesty and released,” said Dr Labode.
She added that they are also lobbying to have even those with pending wilful HIV transmission cases to be pardoned and their cases dropped.
“So that’s where we are and that’s what we are lobbying for in line with the recent repealing of section 79 of the Criminal Law Code.”
The recently repealed section made it an offense for anyone knowing they were infected with HIV or knowing there was a real risk or possibility that they were, and then intentionally did anything or permitted the doing of anything that would infect someone else or involved a real possibility of infecting another person. Such people were guilty of deliberate transmission of HIV, whether or not they were married to the other person, and were liable for up to 20 years jail. Convictions were extremely rare.
Commenting on the recent decriminalization of wilful transmission of HIV move, Health and Policy Consortium of Zimbabwe Projects Coordinator, Dorcas Chitiyo said decriminalization does not mean legalization of wilful transmission of HIV.
“What do we mean by decriminalizing wilful transmission of HIV? It means that law is no longer applicable here in Zimbabwe. That law has been nullified. In this case, the potential miscarriages of justice in terms of proof and causality, in terms of the negative public health impact of criminalization have been attacked head on through the decriminalization of wilful transmission.
“The decriminalization happened by repealing Section 79 of our current criminal code. Decriminalization is different from legalization. These are two related yet distinct aspects. When we say we decriminalized, it does not mean we legalized wilful transmission. This means that the criminal penalties that were attributed to the act, are no longer in effect. In this respect, what we are terming wilful transmission is no longer attaining a criminal penalty,” said Chitiyo.
She however said there were aggravating factors that could warrant one a wilful transmission of HIV prosecution.
“We are saying if a person is convicted of a sexual offense and it is realized after that conviction that this person was aware and proceeded to commit the sexual violence act, and they were HIV positive, it is taken as an aggravating factor and you will still be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, a legal Assessment (LeA) that was done in 2019 and indicated that the criminalization of Wilful Transmission of HIV was causing a challenge and was a barrier to access to health services.