Press Release: AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa Calls on Governments to Protect the Right to Freedom of Expression of LGBTI

Posted by Mutaleni on May 16, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa Calls on Governments to Protect the Right to Freedom of Expression of LGBTI                                     

Windhoek, 16 May 2014 – In commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on 17 May under the theme: ‘Freedom of Expression’, the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) called on governments in southern and east Africa to protect the right to freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in order to effectively address the spread of HIV.   

“The right to freedom of expression is crucial for the HIV response because it provides protection for human rights activists, LGBTI and other civil society organisations who disseminate information on HIV prevention and provide HIV-related services to LGBTI people living in countries, which criminalise adult same sex sexual intercourse,” explained Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA. “Unfortunately, the lives of most LGBTI people and their allies in this region are characterised by threats, harassment, extortion, violence and prosecution, for talking about sexual orientation or gender identity issues or for expressing their sexual orientation and gender identities,” she added.

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights as well as the Constitutions of most countries in the region. However, in recent months, the right to freedom of expression for LGBTI people has come under serious threat in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the HIV epidemic.

In April 2013, Zambian HIV and human rights activist, Paul Kasonkomona, was arrested after appearing on a programme on Muvi TV in Zambia, where he spoke about the need to recognise the rights of people at higher risk of HIV and related rights abuses, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and sex workers, in order to comprehensively address the HIV epidemic. Kasonkomona was charged under section 178(g) of the Zambian Penal Code for soliciting for an immoral purpose in a public place. In February 2014, the Lusaka Magistrate’s Court found that the government had failed to prove its case against Kasonkomona in a ruling that provided a major boost to freedom of expression in the country. In March this year, the government lodged an appeal against the decision. ARASA partner, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe also reported harassment, assault, raids of their offices and arrest of their staff in 2013 due to the nature of their work defending the rights of LGBTI Zimbabweans.

In January 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2013, which provides for penalties of up to 14 years in jail for same-sex marriages and up to 10 years imprisonment for membership or encouragement of gay clubs, societies and organisations. In February, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda enacted the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which criminalises consensual sex between same sex partners but also includes additional crimes such as ‘aggravated homosexuality’ which carries a life sentence. This law also provides for five-year sentences for ‘the promotion of homosexuality’ and seven years for directors of NGO’s for ‘aiding and abetting homosexuality’. The provision on the promotion of homosexuality is particularly broad and encompasses “funding or sponsoring homosexuality or related activities” as well as “broadcasting, disseminating, publishing of pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality.” 

Since the enactment of these laws, there has been a surge in reports of arbitrary arrests, harassments, blackmail, evictions and violence targeted at LGBTI people for their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender. For example, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has recorded 162 incidents since December last year, compared to 19 incidents reported in 2012. The laws also create a hostile environment for NGOs as organisations providing HIV and other types of services to LGBTI people have also been targeted for promoting homosexuality. 

“The right to freedom of expression is important on its own, but even more so because it is essential for the realization of other human rights. Clearly these draconian laws are meant to limit people’s ability to associate and access information, which will enable them to make critical health and other life choices,” said Clayton. “We implore that governments protect the right to freedom of expression so that all NGOs and citizens can speak their minds freely and access information without fear of subjugation,” she added.

ARASA partners in Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland mark IDAHOT under the theme: ‘Freedom of Expression’ on Saturday 17 May. Launched in 2004, IDAHOT draws our attention to the reality facing LGBTI people, whose lives are plagued by harassment, isolation, blackmail, violence, arbitrary arrest, rape, sexual assault and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Contact:

 

Felicita Hikuam: Deputy Director

Tel: +264 61 300 381

Mobile: + 264 811 281 107

Email: felicita@arasa.info

 

Sirka Amaambo: Communications Officer

Tel:  +264 61 300381

Mobile:  +264 812781245

Email sirka@arasa.info

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The AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) is a partnership of 73 civil society organisations working together in 18 countries in Southern and East Africa to promote a human rights based response to HIV and TB. For more information on the partnership please visit: www.arasa.info