Zambian activist acquittal brings hope to health and human rights landscape

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Zambian HIV treatment activist Paul Kasonkomona

When police seized Paul Kasonkomona outside a Zambia television station last April, he had been arrested before and was ready to be arrested again.

Kasonkomona, who had fought to make second line treatments for HIV accessible to all who needed them in his country, and who had stood up for the rights of the poorest and most neglected populations in the path of Zambia’s epidemic, knew that victories in matters of life and death don’t come easy.

The stakes of what he had discussed that evening on a nationally televised talk show could not have been higher. He knew, and had said before that as long as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, as well as sex workers, disabled people and others with the least access to health services are pushed to the margins of society, Zambia would not be able to control its HIV epidemic.

His arrest that night and subsequent charge of “disorderly conduct” and “solicitation for immoral purposes,” showed, discouragingly, how far those in authority in his country were from understanding the link between human rights and health. His acquittal this week, in turn, was a heartening  development  in a week in which human rights defenders worldwide needed good news.

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