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The U.S. ambassador to Zambia has sharply criticized the sentencing of two men to 15 years in prison under the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.
“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 for ‘crimes against the order of nature’”, said Daniel Foote in a statement that Rights Africa published on its website on Nov. 29. “Meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution, political cadres can beat innocent citizens for expressing their opinions with no consequences, or poachers/traffickers can kill numerous elephants, barbarically chainsaw and sell their tusks and face a maximum of only five years imprisonment in Zambia.”
Zambia — an African country that borders Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — is among the upwards of 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
The Zambia Daily News on Nov. 28 reported the couple “were caught having sex at a lodge” in Kapiri Mposhi, a town that is located roughly 120 miles north of the Zambian capital of Lusaka. The Zambia Daily News noted Lusaka High Court Charles Zulu sentenced the men.
“Decisions like this oppressive sentencing do untold damage to Zambia’s international reputation by demonstrating that human rights in Zambia is not a universal guarantee,” said Foote in his statement. “They perpetuate persecution against disenfranchised groups and minorities, such as people from other tribes or political affiliations, albinos, the disabled, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) brothers and sisters, and everyone who is deemed ‘different.’”
Pan Africa ILGA also condemned the sentence.
“The harsh 15-year sentence meted out to the two consenting adults has shocked the world and is a blow to the continued global efforts to decriminalize same-sex consensual conduct as well as to enact laws which protect LGBTIQ+ rights and liberties,” said the organization in a statement that Rights Africa published.
Angola, Botswana and Mozambique are among the countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in recent months and years. The Trump administration earlier this year tapped openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encourages countries to legalize homosexuality.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu on Monday rebuked Foote’s comments.
“We are saying no to homosexuality,” Lungo told Sky News, noting his government plans to make a formal complaint against Foote with the Trump administration. “Why should we say we are going to be civilized if we allow it … are you saying that we’re very primitive now because we’re frowning on homosexuality?”
Foote on Monday said “threats made against me” have prompted his decision not to attend World AIDS Day events in Zambia.
I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of ‘Christian’ values, by a small minority of Zambians,” he said in a statement. “I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord, Jesus Christ. I am not qualified to sermonize, but I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as ‘dogs,’ or ‘worse than animals;’ allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals.”
“Targeting and marginalizing minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries,” added Foote. “In my heart, I know that real Zambian values don’t merit your country’s inclusion on that list, ever.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.