Zambia court clears gay activist

By Drum Digital
26 February 2014

A Zambian court has acquitted a top gay rights activist on charges of encouraging homosexuality.

A Zambian court on Tuesday acquitted top gay rights activist Paul Kasonkomona on charges of encouraging homosexuality, a ruling supporters hailed as a boost for African rights after Uganda passed a tough anti-gay law.

"The court ruled that Paul is acquitted. It's a final ruling," said Anneke Meerkotter, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which provided legal support to Kasonkomona.

The magistrate ruled that the state had failed to prove its case.

"The magistrate was clear, public discussion is important, even on controversial issues that are repulsive to some members of community," Meerkotter told AFP.

"This is a great victory for freedom of expression. The mood in court was one of great relief. Kasonkomona did not deserve to be arrested for expressing his opinion and the court ruling vindicates his rights."

Kasonkomona was arrested in April 2013 and charged with soliciting for immoral purposes shortly after he appeared on a live television show where he openly advocated for gay rights and argued recognition was needed to address HIV.

Kasonkomona hailed his acquittal as "a landmark judgment," telling AFP it was "a victory for all Zambians" and vowing to press on with his activism.

"Today is the end of my court case but the struggle continues. I will continue to speak for the rights of all Zambians, the struggle has to continue," he said.

Homosexuality is outlawed in Zambia, as in many African countries, and discrimination against gays and lesbians is rife.

The ruling comes a day after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed off on one of the world's toughest anti-gay laws.

The new rules mean repeat homosexuals could be jailed for life. They also outlaw the promotion of homosexuality and require people to denounce gays.

Zambian law has banned same-sex relationships since British colonial rule, and a sodomy conviction carries a 14-year prison sentence.

Also moving through the country's courts is the case of a gay couple from the northern town of Kapiri Mposhi who were arrested last May.

The pair were charged with sodomy after being reported to the police by one of the men's relatives.

James Mwape and Philip Mubiana have pleaded not guilty to having "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" and are set to return to court next week.

Zambia's crackdown has drawn criticism from human rights groups.

Kasonkomona was set to face one month in prison or a fine if found guilty.

Kasonkomona's lawyer Sunday Nkonde welcomed the ruling as a sign that freedom of expression and other rights were developing in Zambia.

"The magistrate in his acquittal said Paul was exercising his right to freedom of expression including openness," he said.

"This is a welcome judgment and is an indication that freedom of expression and other rights of the citizens are developing in our country."


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