AIDS activists condemn police action

South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) on Monday condemned the government's response to peaceful protestors demanding a national HIV/AIDS treatment plan.

Police responded to demonstrators in the port city of Durban on Thursday by using water cannons and teargas. "Some were also physically attacked," TAC national manager, Nathan Geffen, told IRIN.

He said TAC was currently discussing legal action against the police responsible for the alleged assaults.

TAC launched its protest campaign last week called "Dying for Treatment" which included peaceful demonstrations near police stations to draw attention to the government's alleged failure to effectively tackle HIV/AIDS.

The plan involved sending a few protestors into police stations to bring charges of manslaughter against key South African ministers who are alleged to have impeded access to life-saving treatment for people with AIDS.

"It was after the presentation of these charges that police in Durban tried to disperse the demonstrators outside the station and, when they refused to disperse, used water cannons to clear the area. No arrests were reported in the Durban incident," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

"South Africa is home to about five million people living with AIDS. The government has repeatedly refused to provide antiretroviral treatment through government health programmes and had to be taken to court in 2002 to be forced to provide even the short course of antiretroviral medicines that can reduce the risk of HIV transmission in childbirth, routinely provided in countries much more resource-strapped than South Africa," the rights group said.

"We urge the government not to compound its inaction in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in the country by responding inappropriately to peaceful protestors," HIV/AIDS programme director for HRW, Joanne Csete, said in a statement. "People with AIDS have suffered enough — it's time to work with them to avert death on a massive scale, not to treat them like criminals."