CAPE TOWN – A total of 2,984 prisoners were pardoned on Monday by Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu, including a homosexual couple, in commemoration of Africa Day. However, the move was largely aimed at reducing prison populations to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Lungu evoked article 97 of Zambia’s constitution, which allows for convicted persons to be granted a presidential pardon or substitution, according to Lusaka Times.
Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo announced on Friday that those pardoned fell under the president’s prerogative. It saw 14% of Zambia’s total prison population being released. This included 55 elderly, three medical cases, 11 compassionate, 12 foreign nationals, nine on Lungu’s discretion, and 155 females.
Kampyongo said this was an attempt to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 within prisons, and took time to endorse Zambia Correctional Service’s efforts to adhere to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations and the health ministry’s guidelines. These include physical distancing, wearing face masks and handwashing when admitting new or transferred prisoners.
As of May 26, the WHO reported 920 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Zambia and seven deaths.
Among those released were homosexual couple Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba, who were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in November 2019 after being found guilty of “performing unnatural acts”, according to news agency AFP. The couple were reported to authorities by a worker at a lodge who spied on them through a window.
Despite the perceived victory for gay rights in the African state, Zambia still regards homosexual acts as illegal. This legislation was inherited and remains unchanged from their former British colonial rulers, reported the BBC.
Lungu was quoted as saying “We want him gone” in response to comments by US ambassador Daniel Foote, who was “horrified” by the conviction of Chataba and Samba in November 2019. By December 2019, Foote had been recalled to the US.