Rights groups condemn Zambia's prosecution of Kasonkomona

web_photo_Paul Kasonkomona_040613

Zambian gay rights activist Paul Kasonkomona leaves the Lusaka Magistrate's Court, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of promoting homosexuality.

Windhoek - The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and other African civil society groups have strongly condemned the targeting, arrest and prosecution of Zambian human rights defender, Paul Kasonkomona, for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Kasonkomona was arrested on April 7, 2013 outside the Muvi TV studios after appearing on a television programme and speaking out on how the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are crucial to addressing HIV in Zambia.

On 29 October 2013 Kasonkomona will once again appear before the Lusaka Magistrates Court in Zambia to respond to charges related to section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code which provides that "every person who in any public place solicits for immoral purposes" is deemed an idle and disorderly person, and liable to imprisonment for one month or to a fine.

The rights to freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which reaffirms, in article 19, the right of everyone to hold opinions without interference, as well as the right to freedom of expression. Further, freedom of expression is guaranteed in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples&39; Rights as well as the Constitution of Zambia, which is currently under review.

"Apart from being a gross violation of his right to freedom of expression, Kasonkomona&39;s arrest and charge are particularly concerning because he was on a commercial television station, defending the rights of marginalised populations, who are not being reached by HIV services due to the criminalised nature of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity," said Michaela Clayton, director of ARASA.

"This case highlights the plight of human rights defenders in Africa who are routinely harassed, intimidated, arrested, prosecuted and targeted with threats and acts of violence for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly in defense of marginalised groups of people."

Human rights defenders defend the rights of every person regardless of their race, age, religious conviction, sexual orientation or gender identity. Within the HIV response, they have a responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to claim their right to health, and that governments create the conditions necessary to enable them to do so. Human rights defenders also act to safeguard the ability of communities to participate in decision-making that affects their lives.

"The Zambian government, along with other African governments, has a responsibility to protect all their citizens, including LGBTI people and other marginalised groups, against HIV infection. They are also obliged to defend brave human rights activists such as Kasonkomona against persecution," said Clayton.

African governments have committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms their responsibility to put in place mechanisms to protect everyone&39;s human rights and ensure that acts to limit them do not take place.

"It is really important for all citizens of Zambia to defend Kasonkomona&39;s right to expression of freedom as this is one of the foundations of a democracy and is crucial for monitoring the abuse of power, ensuring good governance and government accountability to various obligations," said Clayton.

"This case has the potential for leading Zambia down a slippery slope. Once one individual&39;s right to freedom of expression is limited, it is difficult to guarantee the rights of other citizens who express opinions that may not be popular."