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Zambia court acquits top gay rights activist

Paul Kasonkomona found not guilty of encouraging homosexuality after talking about gay rights and AIDS on TV.

Last updated: 25 Feb 2014 16:40
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The activist's acquittal was hailed by gay rights advocates as a boost for human rights in Africa. [AFP/Getty]

A Zambia court has acquitted a prominent gay rights activist charged with an offence against public morality over comments he made on television in support of homosexuals.

Paul Kasonkomona's acquittal on Tuesday was hailed by gay rights advocates as a boost for human rights and came a day after Uganda signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality.

Kasonkomona had appeared on television saying that recognising gay rights was needed to address the country's HIV-AIDS epidemic.

Kasonkomona did not deserve to be arrested for expressing his opinion

Annekke Meerkotter, lawyer

"The court ruled that Paul is acquitted. It's a final ruling," said Anneke Meerkotter, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, which provided legal support to Kasonkomona.

The magistrate ruled that the state had failed to prove its case.

Kasonkomona hailed his acquittal as "a landmark judgment", telling AFP news agency that it was "a victory for all Zambians" and vowing to press on with his activism.

"Today is the end of my court case but the struggle continues," he said. "I will continue to speak for the rights of all Zambians, the struggle has to continue."

Meerkotter, the lawyer of Kasonkomona, said the verdict is "a great victory for freedom of expression". 

"The magistrate was clear, public discussion is important, even on controversial issues that are repulsive to some members of community," Meerkotter said in a separte interview with AFP.

"The mood in court was one of great relief," he said. "Kasonkomona did not deserve to be arrested for expressing his opinion and the court ruling vindicates his rights."

Kasonkomona was arrested in April last year and charged with soliciting for immoral purposes shortly after he appeared on a live television show discussing gay rights.

Homosexuality is outlawed in Zambia, as in many African countries, and discrimination against gays and lesbians is rife. A conviction for sodomy carries a 14-year prison sentence.

The ruling comes a day after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed off on one of the world's toughest anti-gay laws.

The new rules mean that gays could be jailed for life in Uganda. They also outlaw the promotion of homosexuality and require people to denounce gays.

Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg warned Uganda on Tuesday that the tougher legislation against homosexuality could represent a financial risk for the country.

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