Zambia's Anti-Gay Obsession Is Worsening Its HIV Epidemic

Published: April 19, 2013

One of Africa’s leading human rights activists was arrested on April 7 after appearing on live television — when police officers reportedly "stormed the station" and "tried to stop the interview," reports The Guardian and BBC. Paul Kasonkomona’s crime: "Inciting the public to take part in indecent activities." Kasonkomona called on the government to decriminalize same-sex relations on live television.

Welcome to Zambia, the landlocked southern African nation slightly larger than Texas. Zambia boasts vast mineral wealth but remains "one of thepoorest and least developed nations on earth."Human rights are also a significant problem. Zambia is one of at least 37 of 54 African nations that prohibit same-sex relations — and it "is among the more hostile political climates," adds The Guardian. All consensual adult same-sex acts are criminalized, and convictions are harsh — a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Zambia does not permit the advocacy of rights for its besieged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. South Africa is the only African nation that offers legal protections for gays and same-sex marriage.

Kasonkomona was held for four days, pleaded not guilty, and was released on bail on Thursday, April 11. The case comes at the same there has been " a frightening increase in violations of LGBT people’s rights " in Zambia, according to one human rights group. The openly gay and HIV positive activist says police denied him access to "his tuberculosis and antiretroviral drugs [and] put his life at risk." Kasonkomona’s plight illustrates the deeply religious and conservative nation’s obsessive anti-gay animus — which is complicating its fight.

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