S. African Judge Adjourns Treatment Action Campaign Case Against Vitamin Advocate; Another Date To Be Scheduled
A judge in Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday adjourned a hearing in the South African HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign's defamation lawsuit against Matthias Rath -- who advocates the use of vitamins and nutrients to treat HIV/AIDS -- because the court had "run out of time," South Africa's Cape Times reports. Justice Siraj Desai said he would meet with attorneys from both sides of the suit on Friday to reschedule a time to finalize the case, according to the Times (Cape Times, 5/27). TAC has asked the Cape Town High Court to issue a temporary injunction to prevent Rath and the California-based Dr. Rath Health Foundation from making defamatory statements about TAC. In some of his advertisements, including full-page ads in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, Rath claims antiretroviral drugs are toxic and suggests that TAC and other groups are front organizations for the pharmaceutical industry and that the group has misled people to believe that "exorbitantly expensive and highly toxic drugs like AZT and nevirapine" can successfully treat HIV infection. TAC has encouraged the South African government to provide access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive people in the country. Rath and his foundation have filed a response to TAC's request, saying that the foundation's claims about antiretrovirals are true and their criticism of TAC is allowed under the country's constitutional right to free expression (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/16).
Before the hearing was adjourned, Rath's attorney, John van der Berg, said that an injunction would "depriv[e]" Rath of his "chance to join in a free debate," even if Rath "hits under the belt," according to the Associated Press (Nullis, Associated Press, 5/26). Van der Berg said, "Debate should not and cannot be restrained," adding, "There will be some who are wounded in the process, but as long as that happens within the ambit of the law, all is in order" (Bell, Reuters, 5/26). Dumisa Ntsebeza, an attorney for the Traditional Healers' Organisation, which is supporting Rath, said TAC cannot ask for defamation protection when it has called South African cabinet ministers "murderers," according to the Times. "If you want to go into the arena and dirty your hands and fight, then you cannot come to a court of law when you get a response in kind," Ntsebeza said (Cape Times, 5/27).
The Long Island Newsday on Sunday profiled South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and her involvement in the Rath case (Holm, Long Island Newsday, 5/29).