December 30, 2019 at 11:20 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
US ambassador to Zambia who defended gay couple recalled
U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote (Photo public domain)

The U.S. has recalled its ambassador to Zambia after the country’s president sharply criticized him for publicly defending a gay couple sentenced to 15 years in prison under a colonial-era sodomy law.

Reuters on Dec. 23 cited sources at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, who confirmed the State Department recalled Daniel Foote. Zambian President Edgar Lungu days earlier told a government-owned television station that his government wanted “him gone.”

Foote in late November publicly criticized the sentencing of the two men who were convicted of “crimes against the order of nature.” Foote later said, “threats made against me” prompted him to cancel his participation in World AIDS Day events.

Lungu said his government “complained officially to the American government.”

“We are dismayed by the Zambian government’s statement that Ambassador Foote’s position ‘is no longer tenable,’ which we consider to be the equivalent of a declaration that the ambassador is persona non grata,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Dec. 23 after news of the decision to recall Foote broke. “Despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people. We seek an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States.”

The State Department sent the same statement to the Blade on Dec. 19 in response to Lungu’s comments against Foote.

Zambia is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. on Dec. 18 hosted an event that highlighted efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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