Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Three people living with AIDS in Gambia are suing former president Yahya Jammeh, alleging he detained and abused them as guinea pigs to test his supposed cure, one of their lawyers said.
"My clients are claiming damages for false imprisonment and (declaring) that the defendant subjected the plaintiffs to inhumane and degrading treatment contrary to the constitution" while they underwent Jammeh's alleged HIV/AIDS cure, lawyer Combeh Gaye told AFP shortly after filing the suit on Thursday.
Jammeh, who has lived in Equatorial Guinea since January 2017 when armed intervention helped end his tough 22-year rule, claimed to possess a range of mystical gifts, including the power to cure asthma, epilepsy and sterility as well as AIDS, using plants and chants.
The AIDS patients who have gone to court are two men of 63 and 64 years old and a woman of 51. They are members of associations that support people living with HIV/AIDS, according to the text of their suit seen by AFP.
Shortly after Jammeh in January 2007 publicly announced his "discovery" of an AIDS cure, the three plaintiffs and six other people, including a minor, were invited to meet the president at State House and became his "first batch" of experimental subjects.
In their court case, they testified that top among Jammeh's "rules was that the members of the group should immediately desist from using any anti-retroviral drugs and/or any other form of conventional medication" given to people with HIV/AIDS.
Jammeh kept the patients locked up during some six months of treatment until July 2007, brushing aside their objections to being filmed during the alleged therapeutic sessions. They later learned that videos had been broadcast on state media, including official GRTS television, the three plaintiffs said.
Despite the ineffective and painful nature of the supposed remedy, the first batch of subjects backed up Jammeh's claim to have cured them when they were discharged. The court case specifies that they "were compelled by fear and threats from the defendant's agents".
Then health minister Tamsir Mbowe joined Jammeh in "false and misleading claims", encouraging "numerous" other people with HIV actively to seek magical treatment, the plaintiffs argue.
A Muslim onetime soldier, Jammeh seized power in a bloodless 1994 coup in the former British colony, a small enclave of a nation inside Senegal either side of the Gambia river and with an Atlantic seaboard.
From 1996, the increasingly erratic leader won successive presidential elections until he was beaten by opposition candidate Adama Barrow in December 2016, agreed to step down and then changed his mind.
After a six-week political crisis, Jammeh left the country on January 21, 2017, in the wake of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States and a final mediation bid.