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July 18, 2014

Zambian Gay Couple Aquitted

By Dawes Cooke

Following an extensive pre-trial detention and a lengthy and oft-postponed trial, James Mwape and Philip Mubiana have been acquitted of charges under Zambia’s anti-homosexuality law. If convicted, the men would have faced up to 15 years imprisonment.

In May 2013, town police arrested Mwape and Mubiana in the Kapiri Mposhi township north of Lusaka following a report from one of the men’s relatives that they were engaging in activity against the order of nature. Until July 3rd the men remained behind bars, and spent most of that time waiting to appear before a judge.

Ultimately the lower court responsible for the case demonstrated its integrity by acquitting the men, deciding the prosecution had not sufficiently made its case. However, much damage has already been done. Mwape and Mubiana have already spent over a year in prison waiting for their trial to conclude. Now, freed from their cells, they face a broader type of imprisonment. Because of the court case, they are widely known symbols of all that the country’s homophobia movement abhors. The vehicle for their notoriety, the country’s largely state-controlled media, has compounded the problem by publishing their names and faces. The men, it bears remembering, were not freed because Zambia doesn’t consider homosexuality a crime; they were freed because the prosecution couldn’t prove that Mwape and Mubiana broke the draconian law.

Human Rights First welcomes the Zambian court’s decision, but believes that Mwape and Mubiana never should have seen the inside of a courtroom in the first place.