Zambia: Four arrested for “championing homosexuality” in GBV march


The now-controversial women’s march sought to highlight the scourge of GBV in Zambia (Photo: Sistah Sistah Foundation/ Facebook)

The arrest of four women in Zambia for holding a march against gender-based violence (GBV) that police say was used to “champion homosexuality” has sparked a wave of dangerous homophobic vitriol.

The women are members of the NGO Sistah Sistah Foundation which organised the event on the 4th of March at the Rugby Club in the Lusaka Showgrounds.

They have been charged with giving false information to public officers while one of the women, Gladys Mwangala Monde, who is the co-founder of the organisation, has also been charged with unlawful assembly.

The event, which had prior police approval, was focused on highlighting the scourge of GBV in Zambia.

“Sexual/violence against womxn and girls has been so normalised [that] so many people are now desensitised to it. It just feels like another ‘too bad’ story,” said the foundation ahead of the march. “But we march because this should never be the norm. We march to let the victims know we stand with and for them, that they deserve justice…”

While the day appeared to go well with a festive atmosphere, the Zambia Police Service later summoned the women for questioning to explain why the march had become, as the police described it, “a forum for championing homosexuality.” The four organisers were then charged and arrested.

Deputy Police Public Relations Officer Danny Mwale said in a statement on Sunday that while the police had indeed granted a permit for the event, it was on the basis that it was only intended to protest against sexual and gender-based violence.

“It has, however, come to the attention of the Zambia Police Service that during the said March-past, conveners exhibited a different agenda from the one whose permit they sort [sic] for,” said Mwale. “The agenda seemed to have highlighted issues of LGBTQ (homosexuality).”

He asserted that “practising homosexuality is a crime punishable by law” in Zambia, adding that the country “is a Christian nation and government does not champion homosexuality”.

Mwale warned members of the public to not “flout the law deliberately by taking advantage of the prevailing environment that allows for freedom of expression and assembly”.

On Tuesday, Mwale confirmed that the women remained in police custody and would appear in court soon. “Meanwhile, police have instituted investigations into the programmes and activities of Sistah Sistah Foundation,” he said.

The march and news of the subsequent arrests have made headlines and generated debate about homosexuality, much of it queerphobic. There have also been calls for the Sistah Sistah Foundation to be disbanded.

In response to the furore, the Zambian Ministry of Information and Media issued a statement condemning the march which it said was used to “champion an illegal and criminal cause”.

Chief Government Spokesperson Chushi Kasanda commented that the “government wishes to remind the public that as a Christian Nation, they have a duty to uphold the Christian values of morality, decency and human dignity in the manner they conduct themselves.”

Under Zambia’s colonial-era penal code, anyone convicted of same-sex sexual activity faces imprisonment with the possibility of a life sentence.

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