Rath defies order to remove web slander

A vitriolic attack on the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as “fronting for the pharmaceutical industry, drug-money laundering and pushing toxic drugs” still featured on the website of controversial vitamin peddler Matthias Rath—in violation of a recent court order forbidding him from further defaming the TAC.

“Our lawyers are on to this,” said Nathan Geffen, the TAC’s policy coordinator. “The Web page is on their South African domain website and they’d better remove it, or we’ll proceed with criminal charges for contempt of court.”

Geffen said the TAC’s lawyers were also considering action to force the Dr Rath Health Foundation to remove defamatory material on its non-South African Web domains.

In a further apparent breach of the court order, the foundation issued a statement this week describing the TAC as “an unscrupulous pressure group that encourages people to take harmful anti-retroviral drugs that will kill them and a group that organises rent-a-crowds for the drug industry”.

Although the foundation clearly lost the case, it managed to congratu-late the judges on “their courage in standing up to the tremendous pressure from these foreign interests”.

Last Friday, the Cape High Court ordered Rath and the foundation to stop publishing statements accusing the TAC of fronting for drug companies. Justice Siraj Desai wrote that the order was imposed to ensure that the TAC’s continued participation in the Aids debate was not restricted by defamatory and unfounded allegations of undue intimacy with the pharmaceutical industry.

Rath advocates vitamins, rather than ARVs, as a remedy for Aids.

Kaya Buthelezi, the Rath foundation’s website editor, said he was aware of the Web page and that the Web technicians were, in all likelihood, busy removing it.
But on Thursday morning, the page was still visible on the website.

In another development this week, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang filed a replying affidavit to a second TAC court action demanding that she, the health department and the government investigate alleged clinical trials conducted by the Rath foundation on HIV-Aids sufferers in Khayelitsha, probe the foundation’s vitamin therapies, and ban the foundation from operating in South Africa.

In the papers, Tshabalala-Msimang said she believed that “no reason exists to criticise Rath, his treatments and his foundation”, while health director-general Thami Mseleku said investigations by the department’s law enforcement unit had failed to find hard evidence of the foundation’s alleged illegal practices, including unlawful clinical trials in the Western Cape. “There is no good reason for the minister to criticise the activities of any of [Rath respondents],” Mseleku said.

As the Rath products were food supplements, not medicine, “there is apparently nothing objectionable to their distribution”.

Mseleku added that the TAC’s charges should be investigated by the police or the National Prosecuting Authority, not by his department.

Also respondents in the case are three prominent Aids denialists, member of the presidential Aids panel David Rasnick, Rath’s adviser Anthony Brink and Medunsa academic Sam Mhlongo.

Tshabalala-Msimang’s spokesperson, Sibadi Mngali, refused to comment on last week’s verdict, saying the case “fell outside the department’s scope”.

“We do not have a policy towards Matthias Rath,” he said. “We simply provide services to South Africans in terms of health.”

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