Zambian authorities are enraged over comments made by the U.S. Ambassador criticizing a high court decision in which two gay men were sentenced to 15 years in prison for engaging in sexual relations.
The high court rejected the appeal of two men, Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, who had previously been found guilty under Zambia’s colonial-era laws of engaging in sex “against the order of nature.”
Zambia is one of about 70 countries worldwide where homosexuality carries harsh criminal penalties, including extended prison time.
It is also one of less than a dozen countries that use forced anal examinations to “prove” homosexuality — procedures that has no medical or scientific basis, but which serve as a way to torture and humiliate those accused of engaging in same-sex relations.
In response to the court’s sentence of 15 years in prison, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Foote said he was “personally horrified” and urged the government to review both the case and revisit Zambia’s laws prohibiting same-sex relations. But his remarks drew condemnation from Zambian officials.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu said his government would send a letter protesting Foote’s remarks to the Trump administration. Zambian Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji also condemned Foote’s remarks, saying they were “tantamount to questioning the Zambian constitution,” according to the BBC.
While Zambia is a major beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid, Lungu threatened to strain or sever relations with the United States if Trump did not condemn the ambassador’s remarks, reports Sky News. He also insisted that nothing would change his opposition to homosexuality.
“We are saying no to homosexuality. 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?” Lungu told Sky News.
“Even animals don’t do it, so why should we be forced to do it? … because we want to be seen to be smart, civilized and advanced and so on,” he added.
On Monday, Foote released a press statement announcing that he had been forced to cancel scheduled appearances at World AIDS Day events on Tuesday because of threats lodged against him on social media.
“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,” Foote said.
When asked whether the U.S. government would cut aid to Zambia, particularly in light of Lungu’s ultimatum to President Trump, Foote responded: “I want to give the government of Zambia the opportunity to renew and rejuvenate its partnership with the U.S.”
He also denied accusations of interfering in Zambia’s judicial and constitutional affairs.
“It is up to Zambian citizens and the courts to decide if your laws correspond to your constitution, but your constitution itself provides every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief,” he said. “I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don’t agree with. I didn’t interfere in internal affairs.”
It is not yet clear what type of action the Trump administration will take in response to Zambia’s letter. While the administration has generally embraced the view that anti-gay laws that condemn and punish homosexuality are a form of “religious freedom,” it also recently announced a global initiative that purports to encourage countries to decriminalize same-sex relations.