African countries must scrap outdated laws and fully legalise same-sex relations

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02/18/2020

Sixty-eight countries around the world continue to criminalise same-sex relations. Almost half of them are based in Africa, comprising more than half the continent. These laws are grossly outdated. In effect they send the message that LGBT+ people are criminals purely for whom we love or our gender. They give the green light to harassment and violence, legitimise state persecution, and put LGBT+ people at risk of blackmail and extortion as well as forced outing, imprisonment, and even death, leading to many of us by and large living secret lives in fear for our safety. In many countries that still carry these relics of colonial rule, criminalisation laws lie largely dormant, undoubtedly affecting public opinion and hindering acceptance of LGBT+ people, but not looming over them with the threat of imprisonment. Across the African region, however, events in recent months point to a trend of testing the efficacy of such laws, and setting a dangerous judicial precedent paving the way for imprisonment of LGBT+ people in the future. In Zambia two men, Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, were arrested in 2017 and charged under the country’s penal code, which prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for same-sex relations between men. In November 2019, Lusaka High Court sentenced them to 15 years’ imprisonment. An appeal to the high court was denied.

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