Activist Paul Kasonkomona has been detained overnight after appearing on TV and demanding the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Zambia.
A human rights activist has been arrested in Zambia minutes after he appeared on live television calling for homosexuality to be decriminalised.
Kasonkomona was being driven from the Muvi TV studio in the capital, Lusaka, when police stopped his car. He was detained overnight at a local station.
On Monday he was charged with "inciting the public to take part in indecent activities", police said, and was due to appear in court imminently.
Officers reportedly tried to stop Kasonkomona's interview as it was in progress but managers at the TV station refused to take him off air.
Homosexuality is outlawed in 37 African countries and Zambia is among the more hostile political climates. Deeply conservative and religious, 98% of the population disapproves of homosexual behaviour, according to a 2010 survey. The country inherited Britain's colonial-era laws, and advocacy groups are banned.
Repealing old laws
In South Africa, where gay marriage is legal, campaign group Ndifuna Ukwazi demanded Kasonkomona's release in an online petition addressed to the Zambia's President Michael Sata.
"We further urge your government to immediately start a process to decriminalise consensual sex between adults in private irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity," the group said. "This means repealing the laws introduced by the British colonial administration and codified in the Zambian penal code."
All consensual adult same-sex acts are criminalised in Zambia, Ukwazi noted, adding that offences such as sodomy or sex between women carry a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of life.
"Indecent same-sex practices" – which could be a reference to holding hands, kissing and masturbation between adults or alone – carries a minimum sentence of seven years and a maximum of 14 years, the group said.
Over Easter four gay couples attempted to register marriages with authorities but were rejected. A traditional leader, chief Madzimawe, was quoted in the Zambia Daily Mail as saying: "It is not a culture of Zambians, Africans and Ngonis to practise homosexuality and gay people should be caged."
The government later said police should deal with the couples involved.
In 2009 a gay couple in Malawi who held a public engagement ceremony were jailed for 14 years, but subsequently received a presidential pardon. Uganda's Parliament is considering laws that would impose harsher penalties for homosexual activity.
Last month the European Union advertised financial support to organisations that wanted to promote gay rights in Zambia.
In 2011, Britain and the US warned they would use foreign aid to push for homosexuality to be decriminalised in Africa. – © Guardian News and Media 2013