Zambia seeks to overturn acquittal of anti-AIDS activist

Paul Kasonkomona
Paul Kasonkomona

The government of Zambia isn’t willing to let an AIDS activist get away with publicly suggesting repeal of the nation’s anti-gay law, even after he was acquitted of a charge that his televised comment should be punished as  “soliciting for immoral purposes.”

AIDS fighter Paul Kasonkomona was arrested in April 2013 immediately after appearing on local Muvi TV, and was faced with the charge that his appeal for reform was a form of “soliciting for immoral purposes in a public place.”

He and other activists say that anti-gay laws lead to increased levels of HIV and AIDS by making LGBT people fearful of acknowledging their sexual orientation, even to a doctor.

He was arrested on April 7, 2013, detained until his release on bail on April 11, and faced court proceedings that started in May 2013.  His acquittal came in February 2014.

Then, in October 2014, Kasonkomona says, he received word that the state was appealing his acquittal.

The first court hearing in the appeal was scheduled for the Jan. 9, 2015, but the other side did not show up, he says. The hearing was then adjourned until Feb. 4, when the state again was absent.

“We called them, reminding them,” Kasonkomona said, “and someone came [to court], stating that they were not prepared.”

Another date for the hearing is expected in March.

Guy Scott, former vice president of Zambia (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Guy Scott, former vice president of Zambia (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

After Kasonkomona’s arrest, Zambia’s then vice president, Guy Scott, admitted that the arrest was politically motivated. He said 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.”

Kasonkomona’s 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 in March 2013.

Soon afterwards, police called on Zambian citizens to report suspected homosexuals.  Several human rights activists went into hiding to avoid arrest.

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 that LGBT people confront when they seek AIDS-related health services.  He works with the Civil Society Health Forum and the Engender Rights Centre for Justice in Zambia.

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]

5 Comments

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  1. This is an excellent summing up of what the case is about — the politically motivated prosecution, and the public health impetus behind Kasonkomona’s work, which calls for a recognition of the human right to health care access, dignity. Well done.

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