South African human rights campaigner Zackie Achmat has demanded the release of a Zambian LGBT activist who’s been arrested after appearing on television, amidst reports of a national police manhunt for gays and lesbians.
On Sunday, Paul Kasonkomona spoke on live Zambian TV in support of same-sex marriage and equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
He was arrested by police, reportedly on orders from acting president and Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu, when attempting to leave the MUVI TV studios in Lusaka.
According to AFP, Police Chief Solomon Jere said that Kasonkomona has been charged with “inciting the public to take part in indecent activities” and would appear in court soon.
His arrest comes days after four gay couples unsuccessfully attempted to marry at the Lusaka Civic Centre. Authorities refused to issue them with marriage licenses.
Lungu responded by calling on police to arrest the men. “If the men are found to have committed any offense, action should be taken accordingly,’ he told the Zambia Daily Mail.
“It is a pity that foreigners have started bringing this thing to us now. We are on dangerous ground where people are bringing new things to us and we are watching. The police must do their work … same-sex marriages are not a normal thing,” the government minister added.
It’s been reported by local media that the police have now launched a manhunt to track down and arrest gays and lesbians.
Achmat, who famously headed up the TAC during its successful challenge of the South African government’s lack of action in providing HIV treatment, has called for Kasonkomona’s immediate release.
“Paul Kasonkomona must be defended,” he said, urging supporters to sign on to a letter to President Michael Sata of Zambia and the South African Minister of International Relations and Development Co-operation, Ms. Maite Nkoane- Mashabane.
In addition to calling for Kasonkomona’s release, the letter urges the Zambian government “to condemn any harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Zambia as a violation of fundamental human rights”.
It also further calls on the government to “immediately start a process to decriminalise consensual sex between adults in private irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity”.
Consensual adult same-sex acts are criminalised in Zambia. Offences such as sodomy, or sex between women, carry a minimum sentence of 15 years or a maximum of life in prison. Attempts to have sex without being successful are punishable by a minimum sentence of seven years or a maximum of 14 years jail time.
These laws were codified in the Zambian Penal Code during the British Colonial period and “updated” in 2005.