U.S. Rebukes Zambia for Jailing Two Men for Homosexuality

Taonga Clifford Mitimingi and Matthew Hill

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. ambassador to Zambia said a high court ruling sentencing two men to 15 years in prison for homosexuality was horrifying.

Ambassador Daniel Foote urged the government to reconsider laws that punish minority groups.

“I was personally horrified to read yesterday about the sentencing of two men, who had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one, to 15 years imprisonment,” he said in an emailed statement Friday. “Decisions like this oppressive sentencing do untold damage to Zambia’s international reputation by demonstrating that human rights in Zambia” are “not a universal guarantee.”

The constitution stipulates that the southern African nation is Christian, and laws dating back to Britain’s colonial rule of the country that ended in 1964 forbid gay sex.

“This is the will of the Zambian people, we have to be with the people by abiding by the law,” Chanda Kasolo, permanent secretary in the ministry of information, said by phone. “We respect the opinion of the American ambassador. We have to do things the way the people want.”

The sentencing of the men was particularly disturbing given that “government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution,” Foote said. He didn’t give detail on which officials allegedly steal funds.

“Zambia takes great exception to the remarks,” both on the court ruling and about government officials, Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Malanji said in a video distributed on social-media websites. The minister will present a formal démarche to Washington by Monday, he said.

Zambia is ranked 105 out of 180 countries tracked by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2018.

(Updates with comment from foreign affairs ministry in final paragraph.)

--With assistance from Vernon Wessels.

To contact the reporters on this story: Taonga Clifford Mitimingi in Lusaka at tmitimingi@bloomberg.net;Matthew Hill in Maputo at mhill58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net, Gordon Bell, Helen Robertson

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