The trial of Zambian AIDS activist Paul Kasonkomona was postponed today after his lawyers argued that the case should be heard in the High Court. They also said that the charges brought against him — “soliciting for immoral purposes” — were too vague.
Kasonkomona was arrested April 7 immediately after a live television show during which he proposed the repeal of Zambia’s anti-homosexuality law.
Kasonkomona, who is often described incorrectly as a gay-rights activist, has focused his work primarily on human rights in general and on AIDS prevention in particular. His proposal to repeal the country’s law about same-sex relations is aimed at eliminating the barriers to AIDS-related health services that LGBT people confront. He works with the Civil Society Health Forum and the Engender Rights Centre for Justice in Zambia.
The O-blog-dee blog reported that “his lawyer Sunday Nkonde SC, from the firm SBN Legal Practitioners, informed the court that they had filed a Constitutional Application which ought to be heard prior to the trial. The prosecution was unable to agree to such until they had time to view the application.”
The constitutional challenge claims that the law against “soliciting in a public place for immoral purposes” is “unconstitutionally vague and over-broad and contravenes article 20 of the Constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression.” It also claims that Kasonkomona is being denied a fair trial because the prosecution has not provided the defense with the evidence against him or the statements of witnesses it intends to call. O-blog-dee stated:
From what we can gather it seems that on 4 June 2013, the prosecution will actually argue its response to the defense’s Constitutional Application. The magistrate will then make a decision on whether to refer the case to the High Court for a determination of the constitutional issues before the trial commences.
Kasonkomona was released on bail on April 11. He is suing the police for unlawful detention, based on the fact that he was held for more than 48 hours before he was charged, and is also seeking damages for mental distress and injury.
His arrest came during a wave of homophobia that began with a news article claiming that four gay couples had tried to register themselves as married on March 30.
Police have asked Zambian citizens to report suspected homosexuals. Several human rights activists have gone into hiding to avoid arrest or worse.
Activists say they have seen a rapid increase in human rights violations against LGBTI persons, including acts of violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, blackmail and extortion.
Guy Scott, Zambia’s vice president, admitted in an interview: “The problem with this guy going on television was that we had to do something because if we had done absolutely nothing we would have got a bollocking from all these evangelical churches plus damn idiots. On the other hand, we didn’t want to give him a particularly hard ride.”
On May 8, James Mwape and Philip Mubiana of rural Kapiri Mposhi were charged with violating Zambia’s law against homosexual activity, which provides for prison sentences of up to 14 years. They were reportedly forced to undergo anal examinations aimed at revealing their recent sexual activity.
They are currently held at Mpima Remand Prison in the Central Province of Zambia, awaiting a trial that is scheduled to begin for May 22. While in prison, they face sexual harassment, get little to eat and have inadequate medical care.
- Zambia: Trial of gay rights activist Paul Kasonkomona delayed (PinkNews.co.uk)
- Zambia: Activist defends right to freedom of expression (Southern Africa Litigation Centre)
- Zambian activist’s constitutional challenge to homophobic arrest and charges (O-blog-dee)
- From his cell, AIDS activist sues Zambia (76crimes.com)
- Gay in Zambia: mob justice, jail until May 22 trial (76crimes.com)
- Amnesty Int’l demands freedom for Zambian gay couple (76crimes.com)
- Zambia report: Police arrest married gay couple (76crimes.com)
- Why such silence amid Zambians’ anti-gay storm? (76crimes.com)
- Appeal to Zambia: End repressive anti-gay frenzy (76crimes.com)
- Zambia’s Anti-Gay Obsession Is Worsening Its HIV Epidemic (The Atlantic)
- Zambian gays face ‘unprecedented’ harassment (76crimes.com)
- Zambia arrests activist after gay rights appeal on TV (76crimes.com)
- Archive of this blog’s Zambia coverage