James Mwape and Philip Mubiana (Pic: Erasing 76 Crimes)

James Mwape and Philip Mubiana (Pic: Erasing 76 Crimes)

After being jailed without bail for more than a year, two men accused of homosexuality have been acquitted by a Zambian court.

Barber Philip Mubiana and bricklayer James Mwape, both in their early twenties, were arrested in May 2013 after being accused of having ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature.’

On Thursday, a court in the town of Kapiri Mposhi ruled that the state had failed to prove its case and freed the two victims. The men, who had denied the charges, could have been jailed for 15 years if found guilty.

They were detained after one of Mubiana’s relatives reported him to the police for living with Mwape as his “wife” and “acting as a woman” in the alleged relationship.

Their arrest followed an anti-gay campaign by the Zambian government, which also saw HIV activist Paul Kasonkomona being arrested for speaking out in favour of gay rights on national TV.

“The case should send a message to police, prosecutors and communities that it is not acceptable to witch-hunt people,” said Anneke Meerkotter, lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case.

While Mubiana and Mwape’s acquittal will undoubtedly offer them some relief, they are likely to have been deeply traumatised by their prolonged ordeal.

“Actions driven by stigma and prejudice can cause immense suffering, not just of the people who were arrested, but also of their families,” Meerkotter noted.

In addition to being refused the right to bail and to a speedy trial and being forced to live under appalling conditions, they were also subjected to invasive medical tests against their will to determine if they had engaged in anal sex.

Amnesty International had declared the two men prisoners of conscience, noting that legislation criminalising homosexuality contravenes international human rights law.

Last month, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister, Gabriel Namulambe, proclaimed that his country will not recognise gay rights as to do so would be contrary to its constitutional Christian values.

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