A Zambian court has acquitted two men who were arrested early last year on charges of having gay sex – but their ordeal may not yet be over.
The men, a 36-year-old teacher and a 22-year-old casual worker in the town of Chisamba, had been accused of having “carnal knowledge of each other against the order of nature.”
They pleaded not guilty to the charges and had been out on bail. The Zambian media reported extensively on the case, including publishing their names.
According to Anneke Meerkotter, Litigation Director at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, a magistrate last week found them not guilty of the charges due to insufficient evidence.
Meerkotter told Mambaonline that while she welcomed the “good news” she was concerned about the media publishing the men’s names and those of others in similar circumstances.
“By releasing their names, communities often assume they are guilty irrespective of the court case,” she explained.
“For many people it becomes impossible for them to return back to their communities because of the risk of attack. It can make people’s lives unbearable.”
She accused the media in Zambia and elsewhere “of doing this constantly; they sensationalise issues” regardless of how it affects these people’s lives.
Homosexuality is illegal in Zambia. Those found guilty of consensual adult same-sex sex acts face a penalty of 14 years in prison with hard labour. Attempts to have same-sex sex without being successful are also punishable with a jail sentence of seven years.
In July 2014, two other Zambian men accused of homosexuality were acquitted after spending more than a year in prison awaiting trial.