Big Boost for Free Speech in ZambiaFebruary 25, 2015
Court dismisses case against HIVactivist Paul Kasonkomona
After a lengthy legal process, the renowned Zambian human rights and HIV activist, Paul Kasonkomona, was acquitted today 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 – a ruling that provides a major boost to freedom of expression in the country.
In a stinging defeat for the authorities, Magistrate Lameck Ng’ambi found that the government had failed to prove its case.
In April 2013, Kasonkomona was arrested after he appeared on a MuviTV 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 the ‘idle and disorderly’ offence of soliciting in a public place for immoral purposes, in terms of section 178(g) of the Penal Code.
“This is a great victory for freedom of expression in Zambia,” said Anneke Meerkotter from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case. “If speech is stifled through the application of outdated criminal laws, Zambians will find themselves unable to openly discuss and debate some issues of real importance to them.”
Kasonkomona’s trial started in October and after the close of the state’s case in December, both parties made submissions on whether the state had provided enough evidence to warrant continuing with the trial. Magistrate Ng’ambi found they it had not.
Kasonkomona was represented by Sunday Nkonde SC from SBN Legal Practitioners.