The United States and the government of Zambia have clashed over the sentencing of a gay couple by a high court judge in the country’s capital, Lusaka.
The sentencing of the couple on Wednesday caused an uproar from the international community, especially the U.S., who have encouraged several governments to consider laws that punish minority groups.
The ruling meant that Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba were sentenced to 15 years in prison for what the judge termed “crimes against the order of nature” in Zambian legal term.
Describing the development as disturbing, the U.S. ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, said in a statement: “I was personally horrified to read yesterday about the sentencing of two men, who had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one, to 15 years imprisonment.”
“Decisions like this oppressive sentencing do untold damage to Zambia’s international reputation by demonstrating that human rights in Zambia” are “not a universal guarantee,” he added.
Zambia and the U.S. have had a cordial bilateral relationship. Being a conservation country, its constitution frowns heavily on same-sex relationships and any form of homosexual activity.
However, the US diplomat Foote, has blatantly accused the Zambian authorities of having double standards when it comes to pursuing other crimes.
The sentencing of the men was particularly disturbing given that “government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution, political cadres can beat innocent citizens for expressing their opinions with no consequences, or poachers/traffickers can kill numerous elephants, barbarically chainsaw and sell their tusks, and face a maximum of only five years imprisonment in Zambia,” Foote bemoaned.
He further warned of a breakdown in relationship between Zambia and the U.S. unless President Trump interfered.
Reacting to the accusations in a distributed video on social media, Zambia’s foreign affairs ministry, Joseph Malanji, said: “Zambia takes great exception to the remarks,” both on the court ruling and about government officials.
A demarche – a political step or initiative – will be presented to Washington today as a diplomatic step, Zambia served notice.