Botswana's High Court has ordered the government to provide treatment to HIV-positive foreign prisoners at the state's expense.

Justice Bengbame Sechele ruled on Friday that the denial of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to foreign inmates violated their rights.

Dickson Tapela and Mbuso Piye, two Zimbabwean prisoners had sued the government for refusing to provide them with free ARVs, while providing them at no cost to Botswana citizens.

The prisoners said the government had denied them "the right to life" and that they deserved "freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, discrimination, and inequality".

Sechele said the government's decision to exclude Tapela and Piye as well as other inmates from ARV was "irrational and invalid".

The judge also ruled that the government should pay for the legal fee for the two inmates.

The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) had supported the challenge against government policy, saying it violated the prisoners' constitutional right to equality, dignity and non-discrimination.

The High Court agreed, rejecting the government's claim that it did not have adequate funds to provide non-citizen detainees with the treatment.

BONELA director Cindy Kelemi welcomed the ruling, calling it a victory for human rights.

"The court affirmed that providing ARV treatment to all prisoners who need it is critical to effectively addressing HIV," she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies