Police in Zambia are hunting two women believed to be in a same-sex relationship after intimate photos of the two went viral on social media.
Zambia Police Public Relations Officer Esther Mwaata Katongo is asking residents of Lusaka to provide law enforcement with information as to the whereabouts of two women identified as Kachana and Grace Tembo. The alleged couple sparked a firestorm after their Facebook photos were circulated by local media.
The Zambia Observer published photos of the pair exchanging a playful kiss on a backyard patio and holding each other as they take a bathroom selfie.
Under the headline “Lesbian Couple Flaunts Affair in Public,” the publication accused them of breaking “legal, traditional and cultural barriers to openly flaunt their gay relationship and can be met at shopping malls and show off their love on social media.” It also claimed Kachana had “turned herself into a man” by “talking and walking” in a masculine way.
The journalist who broke the story, Chanda John Chimba, further called their behavior “evil.”
After their relationship made local headlines, the Zambian news website Tumfweko claimed the couple continued to post pictures of themselves on their social media accounts, calling it a “dare” to police.
If the media’s characterization of the couple’s motives is true, the provocation appears to have been successful. Katongo put out a statement on Tuesday urging anyone “with information that may be helpful in the investigations to report to any nearest Police Station so that perpetrators are brought to book.”
“Police officers have taken a keen interest in the story,” she claimed. “[…] Officers from Cybercrime unit have instituted investigations in the matter.”
Queer and transgender Zambians face widespread discrimination in a country where homosexuality remains illegal. Section 158 of the Zambia Penal Code mandates a felony charge for “any female who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with a female child or person,” resulting in a sentence of seven to 14 years behind bars.
Section 155 of the Penal Code further prohibits “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Those found guilty are subject to a sentence of between 15 years to life.
Unlike countries which rarely enforce their anti-LGBTQ laws, queer and trans people are regularly targeted under these codes. Philip Mubiana and James Mwape were arrested twice in 2013 within the span of a few days and forced to undergo anal examinations intended to “prove” their homosexuality. The discredited practice is often likened to rape and torture.
That same year, a prominent LGBTQ rights advocate, Paul Kasonkomona, was rounded up by authorities shortly after appearing on a live TV program to call for the decriminalization of homosexuality. He was charged with “inciting the public to take part in indecent activities.”