Amnesty International has called for the Zambian Government to stop persecuting people perceived to be gay, as the trial of two such men is set to draw to a close.

Two Zambian men, James Mwape and Philip Mubiana, have been imprisoned since May 2013, accused of having sex “against the order of nature.”

Their trial is set to conclude on 25 February, next week, and Amnesty has called for the immediate and unconditional release of the pair, regarding them as prisoners of conscience.

If convicted, the two could be imprisoned for 14 years.

“There has been a string of violent attacks and state prosecutions of people believed to be gay or lesbian in Zambia”, said Simeon Mawanza, Zambia Researcher at Amnesty International.

An Amnesty report says police have carried out homophobic attacks on individuals perceived as LGBT. The organisation says the attacks were instigated by comments by senior government officials which instructed Zambians to report anyone suspected of “promoting homosexuality” to authorities.

“The Zambian authorities must end this systematic persecution and investigate all homophobic attacks. The authorities must bring those responsible – whether police or members of the public – to justice,” said Simeon Mawanza

Amnesty goes on to note that five men have been arrested under Zambia’s anti-sodomy laws in the past year, and that human rights activists have been targeted by police.

Online publications, particularly Tumfewko.com and Zambian Eye, have been “outing” individuals as “gay and lesbian leaders”, exposing them to discrimination and the very real risk of violence.