from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – THE arrest of same-sex relationship activists in Zambia has reignited the fallout between the United States and the Southern African country over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
The war of words coincides with commemorations of International Women’s Day but was triggered by the arrest of four women’s rights activists that organized a march in the capital, Lusaka, last weekend.
Police arrested the suspects, in their 20s, under accusations that they sought clearance from law enforcers under the pretext that demonstrations were against the rising scourge of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), after the recent rape of a teenage girl, but the march was later used as a platform to campaign for same-sex relationships.
Those arrested are Gladys Mwangala Monde (aged 29), the co-founder of Sistah Sistah Foundation.
Others officials of the organisation arrested are Luse Mwila Chanda (25), Ann Kazhila Hollard (28) and Chilombu Kabambi (22).
They have been slapped with charges of “Giving False Information to Public officers” and “Unlawful Assembly.”
Danny Mwale, Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, confirmed the arrests.
“Investigations have intensified,” he said.
“Meanwhile, police have instituted investigations into the programmes and activities of Sistah Sistah Foundation,” Mwale said.
The US Embassy in Zambia condemned the crackdown.
“As in prior years, women – and male allies – came forward this weekend to peacefully exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed rights of expression and assembly,” it stated.
“Not everyone may have agreed with their language or the symbols which a small number of them carried; this is often the case in civil rights struggles led by people from diverse, marginalized communities.”
“Regrettably, rather than protect and defend those who stepped forward and spoke out calling for safety from physical and emotional harm, Zambian authorities instead chose to punish those they did not agree with.”
However, Zambia’s political rivals have in a rare show of unison, spoken out against the emerging trend of pro-gay activism.
“We have to be firm as a country,” said diplomat, Emmanuel Mwambwa, who is campaigning for the presidency of the main opposition, Patriotic Front (PF).
“We should not allow foreign values and pervesion masquerading as human rights to be forced on Zambia,” he added.
Mwamba said Zambia would fight SGBV but programmes such as Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education must never be used to integrate the agenda of LGBTQ.
“This remains offensive to our laws, norms, traditional, religious and cultural values,” the diplomat said.
Mwamba’s party has previously accused the United Party for National Development (UPND)-led government for the prevalence of pro-gay processions lately.
However, government spokesperson, Chishi Kasanda, described as “irresponsible” those that participated in the recent march.
“As Government, we do not condone this behaviour and anyone who decides to go against the law will not go unpunished,” she said.
Kasanda reminded that homosexuality is prohibited in Zambia as provided in Sections 155 and 157 of the Penal Code, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia.
Violating those sections can incur prison sentences of up to 15 years.
“Further, we wish 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,” Kasanda said.
“As such, citizens are advised to desist, at all times, any conduct or behaviour, that is inimical to our Christian values. We reiterate our commitment to promoting and upholding national values and principles as enshrined in the Republican Constitution.”
In 2019, when PF was in power and Edgar Lungu the president, Zambia and the US fell out over the same issue.
The host government declared Ambassador Daniel Lewis Foote persona non grata after the American envoy condemned the conviction of two men found to have performed consensual sex acts.
Foote accused Zambia of instead, not actively persecuting misappropriation of donor aid.
Concerned by Zambia’s decision, the US government, then led by Donald Trump, recalled the ambassador.
– CAJ News