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Zambia police refuse to release ailing gay rights activist

Detention cells in Zambia. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Rainka)
Detention cells in Zambia. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Rainka)

Police in Zambia are balking at releasing anti-AIDS and human rights activist Paul Kasonkomona from jail even though his supporters have provided the required guarantees that he would return to face court proceedings.

His supporters appealed today to Zambian leaders and international groups to help win his release, saying that Kasonkomona’s continued detention poses a grave threat to his health.

Kasonkomona, who is HIV-positive, was arrested April 7 after he appeared live on television in Zambia urging recognition of gay rights.

He was charged with one count of “promoting immoral acts.”

His supporters were told that Kasonkomona would be released if he could provide two working sureties to guarantee his return to court. But when they did that, police refused to set him free.

“We met all the legal requirements, and now they are saying it’s a political case. It is unlawful for the police to detain Paul for more than 48 hours without taking him before a magistrate,” said Chivuli Riva Ukwimi, the marginalised populations coordinator for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa, which supports human rights and populations most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS in the region.

The Zambian human rights group Friends of Rainka said:

“The continued  unlawful detention of Human Rights Activist Paul Kasonkomona raises the question of the neutrality of our police service. Under the Zambian law a person can be granted bail upon presentation of two working sureties and, despite our compliance, Mr. Kasonkomona remains incarcerated.

We appeal to the sensibilities of our political, religious and cultural leaders, local civil society organisations and the international community to come to the aid of Mr. Kasonkomona, who is living with HIV and is receiving third-line treatment. He is being detained in deplorable conditions that may subject him to opportunistic infections such as TB, pneumonia and malaria. We can no longer be silent.”

Kasonkomano was charged with violating Section 178 of the Zambian penal code, which states that “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes” can be fined and imprisoned for up to a month.

He was arrested after police spokesperson Elizabeth Kanjela urged members of the public to report anyone “involved in” homosexuality to the nearest police station. Her statement came in response to an attempt by four male couples to register as married over the Easter weekend.

Human rights activists said that statement marked the start of a police manhunt for LGBTI activists, many of whom went into hiding to avoid persecution.

 

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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