Today is Valentine's Day and people across southern Africa and all around the world are saying "I love you" with roses or chocolates or grand romantic gestures. But for some, expressing their love can be a dangerous and even life-threatening act. This is the case for many in southern Africa, where 12 out of the 15 member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have laws criminalising consensual same-sex conduct.
When criminal laws are used to suppress the right of freedom of expression, individuals and groups lose the ability to openly debate and discuss issues that not only affect them, but can also affect the community at large.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is saddened by cases such as that of respected HIV activist and National Coordinator of Engender Rights-Zambia, Paul Kasonkomona.
Kasonkomona was arrested on 7 April 2013, after he appeared on a Zambian television programme arguing that the rights of sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and sex workers should be recognised in order to effectively address the HIV epidemic.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, "All human beings are equal in dignity and rights" and "everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set out in this Declaration without distinction of any kind." This means all human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation, have the right, under Article 19 of the UDHR, to have opinions and to express those opinions through any media.
For a person to fully enjoy their human rights, they must be able to express their sexual orientation and their gender identity freely and without fear. This is not possible when there is no freedom of opinion and expression. So this Valentine's Day, MISA reminds southern Africans that the right to freedom of expression belongs to everyone.