South Africa Police Slammed for Firing on AIDS Activists
July 14, 2005
Today, 40 people were injured and ten treated for gunshot wounds after South African police fired on protesters at the Frontier Hospital in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape region, said Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the AIDS activist group that organized the march.
Police fired rubber bullets and smoke grenades at protesters marching to demand the government improve access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). "The police started beating people ... then shooting at them," said TAC Deputy Chairperson Sipho Mthati. "It really was excessive force -- it's not like they were burning tires or throwing stones, it was a peaceful protest in a hospital."
Around 700 protesters, many with HIV, marched to the hospital. TAC said the public hospital was treating fewer than 200 people with ARVs while 2,000 needed them.
TAC said it will press charges against the police for excessive force. New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the South African government to investigate the incident. "It's a shocking irony that people demonstrating for essential medicines should be met with rubber bullets and tear gas," said Jonathan Cohen, researcher with HRW's HIV/AIDS program.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Gcinikaya Taleni said hospital managers asked the police to disperse the protesters, who had forced their way into wards and were inhibiting doctors and nurses from doing their work. "We used minimum force to remove them -- rubber bullets and smoke grenades," Taleni said.
Last year, TAC was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its campaign to speed ARV delivery in South Africa. Recent figures show more than 6.5 million of the country's 47 million population may be HIV positive. Critics say the government has been slow to act against HIV/AIDS and to treat those infected.
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.