In 2019, two men - Stephen Sambo, 30, and Japhet Chataba, 38 - were charged by Zambia's state prosecutors with the crime of “having sex against the order of nature”.

As evidence in the trial, prosecutors presented videos and photographs of the two men, while a hotel employee told the court she saw them having sex as she looked through a window.

The court sentenced Sambo and Chataba to 15 years imprisonment. The men appealed the sentence but this was turned down in a decision announced last week.

Speaking about the sentencing of the men, Zambia's president Edgar Lungu said “We are saying no to homosexuality. Why should we say we are going to be civilised if we allow it? Are you saying that we’re very primitive now because we’re frowning on homosexuality? Even animals don’t do it, so why should we be forced to do it because we want to be seen to be smart, civilised and advanced and so on?”

Lungu has previously said: “Those advocating gay rights should go to hell. That issue is foreign to this country.”

The United States ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, has spoken out against the sentencing of Sambo and Chataba. Foote said that the relationship between the two men hurt no one and “meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution”.

Andrew Ntewewe, president of the Young African Leaders Initiative, said at a press briefing: "Those two misfits who were jailed to 15 years were given leniency by the sentencing judge who administered the minimum sentence of 15 years when he could have opted for the maximum life imprisonment.”

Looking at Zambia's penal code, it appears that the maximum penalty for same-sex intercourse is set at 14 years imprisonment, so it's not clear whether harsher sentencing guidelines have subsequently been implemented.

An LGBTQ Guide to the World

The ratings are:

  • Green: In line with world best-practice
  • Amber: Lagging behind world best-practice
  • Red: There’s major issues here
  • Red.
  • Same-sex sexual activity has been illegal in the country now known as Zambia since 1911.
  • Zambia is another former colony of the British Empire that is still struggling with colonial-era laws.
  • The country’s penal code specifically lists homosexual sex as a felony with penalties of imprisonment up to 14 years.

Is there anti-discrimination legislation in place?

  • Red.
  • There are no specific legislative anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Zambia.
  • A broad reading of the country’s 1996 constitution (which uses some of the language of the UN Charter on Human Rights) could be grounds for suggesting that the protections from discrimination include protection for LGBTQ people.

Is there marriage equality?

  • Red.
  • No equality.
  • Political leaders regularly make strong pronouncements against any recognition of same-sex relationships.

What’s it like for LGBTQ who live there?

  • Red.
  • Extremely dangerous.
  • Zambia is a socially conservative country, heavily influenced by evangelical Christians. There are widespread views that homosexuality is immoral and a form of insanity.
  • There are regular reports of harassment of LGBTQ people, with most LGBTQ people forced to remain closeted.
  • There is also a government ban on any person or organisation advocating for LGBTQ rights.
  • While HIV/AIDS is a major health issue for Zambia, there are no health campaigns focused on men who have sex with men.

What’s it like for LGBTQ who visit?

  • Red.
  • Proceed with extreme caution.

Overall rating and comments

  • Red.
  • Country of extreme concern.
  • Any LGBTQ people in this region are at high risk of personal harm.

How you can help

  • Find ways to help publicise the stories and experiences of LGBTQ people in Zambia.
  • Use your networks to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in Zambia.
  • Lobby your political representatives to raise concerns regarding Zambia’s criminalisation of same-sex sexual activities through any available diplomatic channels.
Photo by Sylvester Mambwe / Unsplash

Follow Gareth Johnson on Twitter

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