March 3, 2006

S.Africa AIDS activists win defamation case

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African court on Friday
ordered a controversial German doctor to stop publishing
statements accusing the country's leading AIDS activist group
of being a front for drug firms.

German doctor Matthias Rath and his Rath Foundation have
accused the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of being funded by
drug companies eager to sell their products in South Africa,
which has the highest HIV/AIDS caseload in the world.

Rath, who says life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs are
toxic and the deadly disease can be better treated through
multi-vitamins he sells, earlier defended his statements as
part of a necessary debate on the pandemic.

But the Cape High Court on Friday rejected that argument,
saying it exceeded the limits of free speech.

"The limited restraint on free speech, resulting from the
order I make, is not directed to stop the respondents (Rath)
from participating in a debate of immense public importance,"
Judge Siraj Desai was quoted as saying by the Sapa news agency.

"The restraint is directed at the manner in which the
respondents have chosen to participate in the debate and the
methods they chose to employ," he said.

Rath's foundation has taken out newspaper advertisements
and spread leaflets in poor townships accusing the United
States, Britain, the United Nations and the World Health
Organization of a conspiracy to promote expensive medicines on
behalf of a drugs cartel.

The TAC denies it has ever received money from drug
companies and says accusations like Rath's hamper the battle
against HIV in a country where an estimated one out of nine
people is infected with the virus.

TAC has led efforts to force authorities to provide ARVs.
While the government capitulated in 2003 to their demands, the
lobby group says the rollout has been far too slow and blames a
lack of political will.

In November, the TAC started legal proceedings to sue the
government for allowing Rath to continue working in South

The government said this week about 100,000 HIV positive
South Africans are receiving publicly funded AIDS drugs but
that is only about half the number who die each year.