Zambia to West: Don't watch when we jail LGBT people

Defendants Philip Mubiana and James Mwape leave the courtroom (Photo courtesy of the Lusaka Times)
Defendants Philip Mubiana and James Mwape leave the courtroom (Photo courtesy of the Lusaka Times)

Zambian officials took offense this week at the presence of diplomatic observers in a courtroom where two allegedly gay young men are on trial on charges of violating Zambia’s anti-homosexuality law.
“US, German support for sodomy-accused disappoints State” stated the headline in the Zambian Daily Mail.
“Zambia govt upset with USA, Germany envoys for supporting detained gay couple” said the Zambian Watchdog‘s headline.
“US, German support for two men accused of homosexuality disappoints Government” was the Lusaka Times version.
What did the diplomats do?
They simply were present in a courtroom where two young Zambian men might be told they will be imprisoned for 15 years to life for their sexual orientation.
On June 23, United States charge d’affaires David Young, German ambassador to Zambia Bernd Finke and UNAIDS country co-ordinator Helen Frary went to Kapiri Mposhi to visit the scheduled conclusion of the sodomy trial of Philip Mubiana, 22, and James Mwape, 21, who have been jailed for more than a year without bail while awaiting the end of their trial. As it turned out, the presiding magistrate was absent on June 23 and reportedly was ill. That delayed the expected verdict and sentencing until July 3.
George Zulu, permanent secretary of the Zambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, criticized the diplomats just for being present in the courtroom, because they have previously expressed their opposition to Zambia’s anti-gay law. As reported in the Lusaka Times, Zulu said:

“[The diplomats] were wrong to travel to [the court] to give solidarity to the two men accused of practising homosexuality.
“He said Government is disappointed at the conduct of the diplomats because supporting homosexuality is against the values of Zambia as a Christian nation.
“Mr Zulu said giving solidarity to the two men accused of practising homosexuality is a clear indication that the diplomats want to influence the decision of the court.
” ‘We are urging our diplomats accredited to this country to respect our laws, which are anchored on our Constitution.
” ‘Zambia is a country of laws and we want the courts to be independent and not to be influenced by our diplomats.’ “

The Zambian constitution defines Zambia as a Christian nation.
Although many Christians believe that LGBTI people are created and loved by God like everyone else and therefore deserve justice and fair treatment like everyone else, Zambian officials impose a different theology.
They side with Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin — along with pride, gluttony and lust — but that, unlike those sins, it should be punished by imprisonment.

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, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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