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The U.S. ambassador to Zambia has condemned the jailing of a gay couple in the African nation, and now he has received threats on social media because of it.
Japhet Chataba and Steven Samba were sentenced last week to 15 years in prison for what Zambian law calls "crimes against the order of nature" -- that is, gay sex, Sky News reports. Ambassador Daniel Foote said he was "horrified" by the sentence, noting that the men "had a consensual relationship, which hurt absolutely no one."
Now Foote is receiving threats, leading him to cancel appearances at World AIDS Day events in Zambia, which are scheduled for Tuesday. Zambian President Edgar Lungu has said he will complain to the U.S. government and warned there will be a breakdown in U.S.-Zambian relations unless Donald Trump takes action against Foote, who has served as a diplomat since 1998.
"Lamentably, I will be unable to attend tomorrow's AIDS Day events because of threats made against me, via various media, over my comments on the harsh sentencing of homosexuals," Foote said in a statement issued Monday.
"I was shocked at the venom and hate directed at me and my country, largely in the name of 'Christian' values, by a small minority of Zambians," he continued. "I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Christianity meant trying to live like our Lord, Jesus Christ. I am not qualified to sermonize, but I cannot imagine Jesus would have used bestiality comparisons or referred to his fellow human beings as 'dogs,' or 'worse than animals;' allusions made repeatedly by your countrymen and women about homosexuals. Targeting and marginalizing minorities, especially homosexuals, has been a warning signal of future atrocities by governments in many countries. In my heart, I know that real Zambian values don't merit your country's inclusion on that list, ever." Zambia is a predominantly Christian country.
Foote also said "stigma and discrimination" are making it harder to eradicate HIV and AIDS in the nation. "Discriminatory and homophobic laws, under the false flags of Christianity and culture, continue to kill innocent Zambians, many of whom were born with the virus," he said. "Your citizens are terrified of being outed as HIV-positive, because of the inaccurate and archaic associations between HIV and homosexuality."
In an interview with Sky News, Lungu had defended Zambia's anti-LGBTQ laws. "Even animals don't do it," he said of gay sex, "so why should we be forced to do it? ... Because we want to be seen to be smart, civilized, and advanced and so on."
Foote stressed that it's up to Zambia to govern itself, but he said he will voice his opinion on the nation's laws and policies. "The Foreign Minister [Joseph Malanji] accused me of interfering with Zambia's internal affairs, as he has done each time any foreign diplomat accredited to Zambia offers an opinion different to that of the current Zambian government, and of 'questioning the Zambian constitution,'" the ambassador said in his statement. "I just re-read Zambia's entire constitution, which I believe is an admirable document, and there is no reference to 'having sex against the order of nature,' or of homosexuality for that matter. Your constitution does declare, however, to uphold 'a person's right to freedom of conscience, belief or religion; the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person;' to "respect the diversity of the different communities of Zambia;' and to 'promote and protect the rights and freedoms of a person.' It is up to Zambian citizens and the courts to decide if your laws correspond to your constitution, but your constitution itself provides every person the right to freedom and expression of conscience and belief. I expressed my belief about a law and a harsh sentencing I don't agree with. I didn't interfere in internal affairs."