The protracted detention of two Zambian men accused of having sex is an affront to all who believe in fundamental human rights, equality and non-discrimination and they should be released immediately, said Amnesty International today.
The Magistrate court in Kapiri Mposhi was due to deliver its verdict today on the case of James Mwape and Philip Mubiana, who have been held for over a year after being charged with having sex "against the order of nature". But owing to delays by the state prosecutor, the case has been postponed to an unknown date.
"These men have already spent over a year in prison having been denied bail in a case where they are accused of something that should not be a crime. Locking up people on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation is reprehensible and a clear breach of international law and justice," said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International's Zambia researcher.
"The wheels of justice have been turning very slowly for these two men. Their incarceration in the first place, and inexcusable delays in proceedings, reflect very badly on the justice system in Zambia. Amnesty International regards both men to be prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release."
Homosexuality is considered a crime under Zambia's penal code, and if convicted, the two men face at least 14 years in prison.
This case comes at a time when senior government officials have made inflammatory statements instructing the public to report anyone they suspect of being a homosexual or "promoting homosexuality."
"Amid a growing climate of fear in Zambia, Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to fulfil their obligations to respect and protect all human rights and end the persecution of individuals on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," said Simeon Mawanza.
"We are worried about the shrinking space for human rights in Zambia under the current administration. Fundamental freedoms have increasingly come under attack with political opponents, civil society and sexual minorities being systematically suppressed."
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of James Mwape and Philip Mubiana and for the repeal of laws criminalizing same sex conduct.
The two men, both aged 22, were first arrested on 25 April 2013, and detained until 2 May, when they were released on bail. They were arrested again on 6 May and subjected to forcible anal examinations by government doctors to "prove" their involvement in sexual activity. These examinations are tantamount to torture.
They have been charged with of having sex "against the order of nature" under Section 155 of Zambia's Penal Code.
Both James Mwape and Philip Mubiana deny the charges against them.