Victims of bogus AIDS treatment sue ex-Gambia leader

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Three victims of a bogus AIDS cure created by the former Gambian president sued Thursday for damages in the first case against Yahya Jammeh brought to national courts since the former leader fled into exile.

The three men filed a lawsuit on Thursday in the High Court in the capital Banjul, said US charity AIDS-Free World, which helped them gather evidence.

Jammeh, whose 22-year reign over the small West African country was marked by accusations of human rights violations, fled to Equatorial Guinea last year after losing an election.

Ousman Sowe, Lamin Ceesay and Fatou Jatta were among the first Gambians to join their HIV / AIDS treatment program in 2007, where they were forced to give up antiretroviral drugs and drink homemade potions that made them vomit. [L8N1PH48U]

Their health deteriorated, while other program participants died.

“I think it’s my responsibility to hold Jammeh to account,” said Sowe, a former college professor in his sixties.

“I knew that one day the real story would be told.”

People were afraid to criticize the president when he was in power, victims said, so doctors and patients have publicly said his drugs are working.

The program has hampered real work on HIV / AIDS in The Gambia, which lags other African countries in terms of treatment rates, according to the UN agency UNAIDS.

It has also increased the stigma of people living with HIV and deprived them of their dignity, survivors said. Sometimes Jammeh would rub ointment on their bodies during sessions broadcast on television, they told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

They subsequently lost their jobs and struggled to rent houses because their faces were recognizable, they said.

“Jammeh has to pay for what he did to us,” Ceesay said.

The victims are seeking financial damages for the harm suffered and a declaration that their human rights have been violated, said Saramba Kandeh, a lawyer at AIDS-Free World.

Jammeh will be tried in absentia and can be represented if he wishes, she said.

“We want to send a clear message that people living with HIV are people like us,” Kandeh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Gambia-based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and a Gambian lawyer are also working on the case.


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