From hate speech to jailing gays in Zambia

And so it came to pass. After weeks of hate speech and ‘gay-bashing’ by homophobic politicians and religious leaders, two men have been arrested in Zambia for the ‘sin’ of being gay. Ever since Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu launched into his latest anti-homosexual tirade a few weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before the police – and public – took action. And now they have.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

May 7th, 2013

And so it came to pass. After weeks of hate speech and ‘gay-bashing’ by homophobic politicians and religious leaders, two men have been arrested in Zambia for the ‘sin’ of being gay. Ever since Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu launched into his latest anti-homosexual tirade a few weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before the police – and public – took action. And now they have.

two men from the town of Kapiri Mposhi have been charged with the “offence of sodomy or having sex against the order of nature contrary to the laws of Zambia.” And it seems as if it were the men’s relatives who reported them to the police - exactly what the police had requested members of the public to do.

It is a shocking turn of events – but sadly not surprising. Zambia’s record on human rights has taken a hammering in recent months as the government of President Michael Sata has cracked down relentlessly on opposition politicians and civil society activists. And in this atmosphere, it was always likely that the anti-gay rhetoric spewing forth from political podiums and priestly pulpits would end in public attacks or (as in this case) public spying and finger-pointing – and that the police (ever keen to do their masters’ bidding) would jump at the chance to put some gays behind bars.

What is also extremely sad is that the arrests will be met with widespread popular support - and probably demands for more gays and lesbians to be arrested. But that does not alter the fact that these arrests - and any similar ones in future - are wrong in every way. Locking people up purely because of who they love is a blatant violation of their universal human rights – whatever the ‘law of Zambia’ or the so-called ‘order of nature’ might say.

 It is also another sign – – that Zambia is rapidly sliding down the path marked ‘Malawi under Bingu’, where an increasingly authoritarian government supported by a repressive police force trampled over human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

Back then, key donors – including the US Millennium Challenge Corporation – were quick to criticise the Bingu regime for its attacks on gay rights (which always precedes attacks on the rights of other groups) and to suspend support when the extent of Malawi’s descent into authoritarianism became clear. Hopefully, they will take a similarly firm stance with Sata – before it is too late.

And hopefully, the Zambian authorities will immediately let the two young men go and dismiss the charges. But that - sadly - would be an even more surprising and shocking turn of events.

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