Fake Zambia opposition interview sparks furore over gay rights


A fake news interview claiming Zambia's main opposition leader supported gay rights caused uproar in the conservative African country on Thursday, prompting him to reject the comments as part of an attempt to tarnish his image.

The article, which was falsely attributed to AFP and US news agency AP, said that UNPD party chief Hakainde Hichilema had supported legalising relations between members of the same sex.

"In a democracy people must choose where they belong and whom they have intimate relationships with. As soon as we form government, these are some of the rights our Constitution will enshrine," the fake interview cites him as saying.

The deeply conservative African state does not explicitly forbid homosexual relations, but the constitution bans relations that "go against nature" with a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

President Edgar Lungu, who was re-elected in 2016, has spoken out strongly against gay rights, despite pressure from donor countries that provide essential aid to the country.

Hichilema took to Twitter to dismiss the claims, suggesting it was an attempt by Lungu's ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party to damage his image.

"I don't get bothered when I hear PF chaps feeding the nation on diet of lies over lesbian and gay rights," he wrote.

"We are God fearing and there is no single chance of us supporting unbiblical things. Let's focus on fixing this broken economy."

The fake interview was published as Lungu, in power since 2015, faces mounting opposition complaints that he is cracking down on dissent and seeking to consolidate power with reforms that sap parliament.

Lungu has defended his government's position on gay rights despite international pressure.

"The president says that certain rights enjoyed in other parts of the world cannot be replicated in Zambia because they are taboo to many if not all Zambians," the presidency said in a statement.

Without commenting on the interview's authenticity, Information Minister Dora Siliya denounced the opposition leader's behaviour as "unlawful and also immoral".

But opposition officials suggested it may have been a tactic to try to influence voters before the next general election in 2021.

"Zambia being a socially conservative country, this could damage the chances of our candidate in elections," Anthony Bwalya, a UNDP opposition party member told AFP.

Hichilema, who lost to Lungu in a 2016 vote and refused to accept the results, was briefly held on treason charges but later released.

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