, LUSAKA, June 2013 – The trial of prominent Zambian gay rights activist Paul Kasonkomona was put on hold Wednesday in order for the High Court to rule on a challenge brought by his lawyers.
Magistrate Lameck Ngambi granted the defence’s application for a hearing in the upper court, where a ruling in the activist’s favour could see the case thrown out.
Kasonkomona, 38, was arrested and charged with soliciting for “immoral purposes” after arguing for gay rights on live television in April.
His lawyers argued that his arrest violated a constitutional protection on freedom of expression.
“I find merit on this point and therefore rule that this matter be referred to the high court for the determination of constitutional issues raised,” said Ngambi in a court in the capital Lusaka.
Anneke Meerkotter of the Southern African Litigation Centre, which is assisting in the case, said the trial would be suspended while the matter was heard.
Kasonkomona’s lawyers had also argued that the charge was vague, but the magistrate had not referred this to the court, she said.
One of Kasonkomona’s legal team said the charge “will be quashed” if the court finds in his favour.
Anti-gay crackdowns have recently increased in the southern African country.
In a separate matter, the trial of two men charged with sodomy was postponed on Wednesday afternoon in Kapiri Mposhi north of Lusaka.
Philip Mubiana, 21, and James Mwape, 20, have pleaded not guilty to having “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”.
Their trial will start on Monday and continue on Tuesday.
Zambia’s laws have outlawed same-sex relationships since colonialism under Britain, and a sodomy conviction carries a 14-year prison sentence.