Zambia’s president Edgar Lungu pardons two men jailed for having gay sex after fierce diplomatic row

Zambian President Edgar Lungu. (DAWOOD SALIM/AFP via Getty Images) zambia

President of Zambia Edgar Lungu has pardoned two men who were jailed for having gay sex in November, 2019.

Carrying a 15 yearslong sentence, the imprisonment of Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba by high court judge curdled into international outcry from LGBT+ advocates and diplomats towards the predominantly conservative Christian country.

Chataba, 39, and Samba, 31, were among nearly 3,000 in named pardoned last Friday (May 22) by the leader to commemorate Africa Freedom Day, a government gazette reported, according to BBC News.

Two men charged for ‘crimes against the order of nature’ in Zambia released in presidential amnesty. 

The continent’s spotty and, at times, sluggish track record with LGBT+ rights reflect an Africa grappling with a once progressive approach to queer people snarled by British colonisation. With many colonial penal codes stonewalling activist’s attempts to rally change.

Last year, Kenya’s high courts ruled to double down the country’s ant-LGBT+ laws, while lawmakers in Uganda crept close to introducing the death penalty for gay sex.

As a result, the persecution of Chataba and Samba’s for what the Lungu government called “crimes against the order of nature” sparked outrage.

Evangelical Christianity is imbued into almost all aspects of day-to-day life in Zambia, from the social to the political arenas.

And the men’s persecution proved so potent that it drew criticism from then US ambassador Daniel Foote. The diplomat traded barbs with Zambian officials for decrying the sentence as too harsh, leading to Washington to withdraw him.

Foote dubbed the treatment of the men at the time “horrifying” in a combative statement and skewered ministry officials for misappropriating millions.

The Zambian government, he said, “the Zambian government “wants foreign diplomats to be compliant, with open pocketbooks and closed mouths​.”

Lungua later told state-owned television channel ZNBC that he “wants him gone” from Zambia, the New York Times reported.