Madagascar politician sentenced to jail for virus potion protest

Harry Laurent Rahajason, a former communications minister, was sentenced to 44 months in prison for protesting against a herbal drink being punted as a coronavirus treatment and cure.

The president of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina attends a ceremony to launch 'Covid Organics' or CVO, in Antananarivo on 20 April 2020. CVO is a remedy from the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) created from the Artemisia plant and is supposed to prevent any infection by COVID-19. Picture: AFP

ANTANANARIVO - An opposition figure in Madagascar was sentenced to jail for three years on Thursday for a protest over a herbal drink touted by President Andry Rajoelina as a coronavirus treatment and cure.

Harry Laurent Rahajason, a former communications minister, was sentenced to 44 months in prison for disrupting public order and inciting hatred, his lawyer Eric Rafidison told AFP.

The infusion's effects have not been scientifically tested and the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued several warnings against its use and distribution.

On July 13, two youths put up a banner on a busy road in the capital Antananarivo seeking the release of the leader of their student group who had been detained in June for criticising the potion on Facebook.

They were arrested and questioned and said they were instigated by Rahajason, who was arrested three days later and placed under house arrest.

The former minister, visibly weakened, denied the accusations in court on Wednesday, saying: "I do not know these protesters, I have no links with them" or their leader.

Rajoelina had boasted about Madagascar's natural resources and expertise that could "change history".

More than a quarter of Madagascar's 26 million inhabitants have so far taken the drink, according to government figures, and there are still nine million bottles in stock.

But the Indian Ocean island nation has still recorded more than 16,400 coronavirus cases and at least 232 deaths, although the spread of infection has slowed in recent weeks.

Rahajason is the third opposition member detained recently.

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