News Release: Zambia High Court Confirms Aquittal of HIV activist, Paul Kasankomona
Lusaka, 15 May 2015 – Today, Justice Judy Mulongoti confirmed the 2014 ruling of His Worship Lameck Ng’ambi in which he acquitted human rights activist, Paul Kasonkomona.
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 persons and sex workers in order to comprehensively address the HIV pandemic. Kasonkomona was charged under section 178(g) of the Penal Code with the idle and disorderly offence of soliciting in a public place for immoral purposes. This offence dates back to the English Vagrancy Act of 1898 and had never before been used to curb the right to freedom of expression.
Kasonkomona’s trial started in October 2013. On 25 February 2014, after the close of the prosecution’s case, Magistrate Ng’ambi ruled that the prosecution had not made out a prima facie case against the accused and acquitted Kasonkomona. The State appealed this ruling. In its submissions on appeal, the State argued that it was justifiable to limit the right to freedom of expression where persons expressed their views on the rights of LGBT persons. Justice Mulongoti confirmed the 2014 ruling that the State did not present sufficient evidence on all the elements of the offence.
“The judgment of the High Court is important because it confirms that it is not unlawful to lobby for law and policy reform and for the protection of the rights of marginalised groups,” says Anneke Meerkotter, from SALC. “It in unacceptable that the State doggedly pursued criminal prosecution of a human rights activist when they never had any evidential basis for such persecution.The outcome of this case is a victory for freedom of expression in Zambia.”
“The judgment is a great relief. This matter took more than two years to pass through the courts, and has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech in Zambia. With the judgment, we can finally move forward and work towards firmly establishing Zambia as a country in which democratic values such as freedom of expression and the tolerance of diverse opinions can thrive,” says Paul Kasonkomona.
Kasonkomona was represented by Sunday Nkonde SC from SBN Legal Practitioners and supported by SALC.
For more information:
Paul Kasonkomona, National Coordinator, Engender Rights-Zambia; Tel: +260 97 742 1548.
Anneke Meerkotter, Litigation Director, SALC; Tel: + 27 72 234 4763; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org