Gay in Zambia: mob justice, jail until May 22 trial

Family members give moral support to Phil Mubiyana and James Mwape in their jail cell.
Family members give moral support to Phil Mubiyana and James Mwape in their jail cell.

Human rights activists in Zambia reported today that two men arrested for homosexuality have been sent to jail pending trial on May 22.

[That date is a correction from the activists’ previous report on the incident, which said the trial was not scheduled until May 2014.]

After investigating the incident, the activists also concluded that two men  were subjected to “inhumane and degrading” treatment by police after they were seized by a mob and hauled to the local police station in rural Zambia.

The activists’ account of the arrests differs substantially from what the Zambian government news service reported earlier this week. Among the differences: a week-long detention without any formal charges brought against the accused, mob justice, and multiple forced medical examinations. Also, the men were reportedly re-arrested after they were found drinking together in a local bar, not after they were caught “again engaging in the act which they were arrested on in the first place.”

Here is the activists’ account:

On Thursday, April 25, Phil Mubiyana and James Mwape of Ndeke Compound  in the Kapiri Mponshi district were arrested on charges of practicing homosexuality. The arrests came after a rumor spread in the Ndeke Compound that they were married and living together as a gay couple.

They were detained for a week, during which police could not officially charge them under the laws of Zambia because police had no collaborative evidence to justify their arrest. Instead, both men were forced to undergo a medical examination without their consent and without their being formally informed of the ramification of the exam.

Both parties to inhuman and degrading treatment  during the medical  examination, which included a “swab test” intended to determine whether any sexual penetration had occurred between the two of them.

On Friday, May 2, both men were released on police bond on the condition that they would not see each other before a scheduled court hearing on May 7. If they violated that restriction, they were warned that they would be re-arrested.

Members of the public gather outside the courtroom in Kapiri Mponshi, Zambia.
Members of the public gather outside the courtroom in Kapiri Mponshi, Zambia.

On the mid-afternoon of Sunday, May 4, a mob of people tracked them to a nearby public bar where they were having a drink. The mob, mostly consisting of their neighbors, dragged the pair to the Kapiri Mponshi central police station. Members of the mob claimed that they had the right to make a “citizen’s arrest” because acting President Edgar Lungu recently stated that all “known/ suspected to be practicing [homosexuality] should be arrested and be brought to justice.”

On Tuesday, May 7, both men were scheduled to appear in court  but the hearing was postponed because police under the office of the director of public prosecution did not have enough evidence to present  to the judge. For that reason, the two men were forced to undergo another medical examination.

Today, Wednesday, May 8, they appeared before the Magistrate Judge and pleaded not guilty. Their trial is scheduled to begin May 22. Until then, they were ordered to remain in jail without bail.

Their location is the tiny Kapiri Mponshi Central Prison, where prisoners are held in deplorable conditions. It was built to hold five people, but now houses 19.

These are the previous articles about this incident, which were based on information from the Zambian government news service:

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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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