by Jeff Taylor
U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, is facing condemnation by the country’s officials, including the president, and threats from media outlets for saying he was “personally horrified” by the sentencing of two gay men to 15 years in prison under a British colonial-era law.
Foote encouraged the country to reconsider the law, saying the men’s relationship harmed no one but “meanwhile, government officials can steal millions of public dollars without prosecution.”
U.S. State Department/Public Domain
Foote’s swearing-in ceremony
Foote told reporters on Monday he would not be intimidated by the nation’s officials, AP reports. Zambian President Edgar Lungu has accused him of being “disrespectful” and with interfering with the sovereignty of a foreign state.
Lungu told Sky News no amount of aid being withheld could make him accept homosexuality, saying most in the country view it as “wrong…unbiblical and unchristian,” going on to compare gay sex with bestiality.
“They require help, obviously. For me, I think they are sick, that’s how I see it,” the president said of the men. “They need help. The fact that they are going to jail probably is one thing, but help should be given to them.”
Lungu suggested the men could potentially be given a pardon, but rejected the idea that Zambia would reconsider its law against same-sex relationships.
“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,” Foote responded. He said he was unable to attend a World AIDS Day event due to threats against him over his remarks.
Zambian Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji said Foote’s comments were tantamount to questioning the country’s constitution, but Foote disagrees, arguing he didn’t interfere with foreign affairs, simply expressed his objection to what he sees as a harsh sentence.
Foote said in a statement that he re-read Zambia’s constitution, and didn’t any reference to “having sex against the order of nature,” the charge for same-sex sexual activity, or of homosexuality.
“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.”
Zambian officials said they are drawing up a letter of protest to send to Washington to ask for Foote to be reprimanded for his comments.
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