The trial of two Zambian men charged with sodomy was delayed Wednesday and the suspects were remanded in custody, after the constitutionality of the case was challenged by the defence.
Philip Mubiana, a 21-year-old barber, and James Mwape, a 20-year-old bricklayer, have pleaded not guilty to having “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” in case that has become the latest battleground for gay rights activists.
Before a packed courtroom in the small northern town of Kapiri Mposhi, the men’s lawyer William Ngwira successfully applied for an adjournment of the case.
“We wish to raise constitutional issues which we shall submit to your court for determination,” he said, without elaborating.
Magistrate John Mbuzi adjourned the case to June 5, but remanded the pair in custody, fearing they could interfere with a key witness who is believed to live at their residence.
Mbuzi also argued that once granted bail there was no guarantee that the couple would not have sex with each other, alleging this had already happened after inital police bail was granted.
“They were released on bond and they committed a similar offence, I see a danger, the application for bail is refused,” said Mbuzi.
As the magistrate spoke, local residents peeped through the widows to get a glimpse of the proceedings, which have attracted much attention in the highly conservative African nation.
Last month rights activist Paul Kasonkomona was arrested for appearing on television demanding the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Conviction for sodomy carries a jail sentence of up to 14 years in Zambia, but prosecutions have been extremely rare.
“It is heart-breaking that the law continues to criminalise sexual acts which take place in private between consenting adults of the same sex,” said Anneke Meerkotter, an activist at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
“As a result of such laws police are able to arrest innocent young men, expose them to terrible conditions in detention, whilst depriving their families of their much needed support.”