Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed recent homophobic statements by religious and government leaders in Zambia that could drive African LGBT people further underground.

HRW called on government authorities to condemn statements that could discourage men who have sex with men from seeking health care and erode their fundamental human rights, and to reaffirm the importance of HIV testing and treatment for these men.

In a letter to the government, the New York based group also called on the Zambian Parliament to amend the Penal Code to decriminalise consensual sexual conduct among adults.

“Zambia has a strong track record on addressing HIV/AIDS,” said Joseph Amon, Health and Human Rights director at Human Rights Watch. “However, promoting intolerance and creating a climate of fear will only sabotage efforts to ensure access to HIV prevention and treatment by driving men underground.”

Zambian religious leaders and government authorities have in recent weeks made a series of statements in the media condemning homosexuality reports HRW.

It cites, as an example, the chairman of the National AIDS Council, Bishop J.H.K. Banda, recently criticising donor countries for speaking out on behalf of the Zambian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Banda characterised the donor countries’ efforts as being “against the traditional values of the country.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Zambia through laws imposed on the country under British colonial rule. “There is nothing Zambian about these laws – they are an unjust vestige of an outdated colonial system,” Amon said.

The statements from Zambian authorities and religious leaders come on the heels of homophobic statements and violence in other African countries including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

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