Relief as Zambian court confirms activist’s acquittal


Paul Kasonkomona

Zambian human rights activist Paul Kasonkomona will remain a free man after a court upheld his earlier acquittal.

Kasonkomona was arrested in April 2013 as he left a Lusaka television studio after making comments live on-air supporting the rights of LGBT people and sex workers.

He argued that these needed to be recognised in order to effectively combat the country’s HIV epidemic.

Kasonkomona was charged with violating section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code, which criminalises anyone “who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes”.

He was jailed for more than three days and was reportedly not allowed access to his HIV medication before being granted bail.

In February last year, Kasonkomona was acquitted when the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court found that the government had failed to prove its case.

The state appealed the ruling, but, on Friday, Justice Judy Mulongoti confirmed the acquittal.

“The judgement of the High Court is important because it confirms that it is not unlawful to lobby for law and policy reform and for the protection of the rights of marginalised groups,” commented Anneke Meerkotter, from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which assisted the activist in his case.

“It in unacceptable that the state doggedly pursued criminal prosecution of a human rights activist when they never had any evidential basis for such persecution,” she said.

Kasonkomona described the judgement as “a great relief,” noting that the case took more than two years to be resolved and had “a chilling effect” on freedom of speech in Zambia.

“With the judgement, we can finally move forward and work towards firmly establishing Zambia as a country in which democratic values such as freedom of expression and the tolerance of diverse opinions can thrive,” he added.

Consensual adult same-sex acts are criminalised in Zambia. Offences such as sodomy, or sex between women, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years or a maximum of life in prison. Attempts to have same-sex sex without being successful are punishable by a minimum sentence of seven years or a maximum of 14 years jail time.

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