The acquittal of renowned Zambian human rights and HIV activist Paul Kasonkomona, by the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court on charges relating to comments he made on television in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, is being seen as a major boost to freedom of expression in the country.
In a stinging defeat for the authorities, Magistrate Lameck Ng'ambi, in his ruling delivered Monday, found that the government had failed to prove its case.
In April 2013, Kasonkomona was arrested after he appeared on a private TV programme where he spoke about the need to recognise the rights of vulnerable groups such as LGBT individuals and sex workers in order to comprehensively address the HIV pandemic.
He was subsequently charged with ‘idle and disorderly’ offence of soliciting in a public place for immoral purposes, under section 178(g) of the Penal Code.
“This is a great victory for freedom of expression in Zambia,” Anneke Meerkotter from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case, said in a statement Tuesday.
“If speech is stifled through the application of outdated criminal laws, Zambians will find themselves unable to openly discuss and debate some issues of real importance to them,” Meerkotter added.