A High Court Judge has ruled that the charges against Paul Kasonkomona – a well-known human rights and HIV/AIDS activist – are not in conflict with his constitutional rights.
Kasonkomona (38) was arrested in April as he left a Lusaka television studio after making comments on live television supporting the rights of LGBT individuals and sex workers.
He was charged with violating section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code, which criminalises “every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes”.
Kasonkomona had argued that the law under which he was charged contravenes his rights to free expression.
On Thursday, Lusaka High Court Judge Anne Sharpe Phiri ruled that “there was no constitutional issue concerning the contravention of fundamental rights of the accused and there was no ground for the magistrate to refer the case [to the High Court].”
She ordered that the case be referred back to the Magistrates’ Court where Kasonkomona’s trial will now continue, reported the Times of Zambia.
“Paul Kasonkomona’s trial is clearly a politically-motivated attempt to silence civil society activists and stifle debate on any topic deemed unacceptable to the State,” said Anneke Meerkotter, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which has been supporting Kasonkomona’s case.
“His unjustified arrest and prosecution are all part of a concerted campaign by the authorities to curtail freedom of expression in Zambia.”
Kasonkomona’s arrest comes in the midst of recent actions against members of the LGBT community. Two alleged gay male couples have recently been arrested and have been charged with homosexuality. They face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty.