In Zambia, 'trial by ambush' in anti-gay case

Members of the public gather outside the courtroom in Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia.
Earlier in the trial, members of the public gather outside the courtroom in Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia.

The defense attorney for two young Zambian men charged with homosexual activity has challenged the testimony of a medical assistant whom the prosecution called as an expert witness in the case.

In the Oct. 25 continuation of the trial in the Kapiri Mposhi magistrate’s court, the defense objected that it had been seeking information about the medical tests since May, but their requests had been rejected. The reason given to them was that the prosecution’s strategy was to conduct a “trial by ambush.” The defense asked for time to find its own medical expert.

The latest witness in the trial was Melody Luhanga, a “medical licentiate assistant graduate” from Chainama School of Health Sciences, who testified that he examined the two defendants at Kapiri Mposhi Hospital on May 7, seeking to determine whether they had committed the act of  sodomy.

The two men, Phillip Mubiana and James Mwape, have been in custody since May 3.

Luhanga said that, on the basis of his examinations, he concluded that both men had engaged in homosexual activity.

The defense repeatedly objected during his testimony that he was presenting conclusions before presenting evidence. Those objections were overruled by Magistrate John Mbuzi.

The defendants have told their lawyers that prison officers have attacked them verbally and emotionally.  According to an activist’s report, the defendants “complained that one of the newly recruited prison wardens has made it his mission to force a confession out of them by constantly harassing them and picking on them in the midst of other prisoners.”

The defense attorneys said they have repeatedly notified the judge about the problem, but little or nothing has been done to ensure the men’s safety.

Activists say they fear that a verdict against the two men will create a precedent for further repression of LGBT people in Zambia “such as has never been seen since  Zambia gained her independence on October 24th, 1964.”

They have urged supporters to help by conducting media campaigns, “enhanced silent diplomacy” and contacting any “networks or connections that maybe implored to secure their release from prison and allow them to live their lives.”

If convicted, Mubiana and Mwape face the prospect of 15 years to life in prison.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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  1. This kangaroo&vindictive trial needs to be portrays Zambia and other anti-lgbt rights nations in Africa&elsewhere as inhuman, barbaric&rigid to change. The sexual orientation of individuals forms part of their intrinsic nature that constitutes their fundamental rights to be different from others without causing harm to them, irrespective of diminutive arguments to the contrary. Nobody deserves to be socially isolated or ambushed by simply being themselves

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