The 13 individuals arrested for “promoting homosexuality” in Tanzania are still being denied bail after having now spent almost a week in custody.
The activists and lawyers were arrested last Tuesday in a police raid on a hotel in Dar es Salaam. The group was meeting to discuss a legal challenge to the Tanzanian government’s ban on HIV services to men who have sex with men and other at risk groups.
According to the police, the individuals are being investigated for the “promotion of homosexuality,” despite this not being a crime in Tanzania.
Two of the detainees are South African lawyers from the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), and include the organisation’s Executive Director, Sibongile Ndashe.
Matilda Lasseko a Senior Lawyer at ISLA confirmed to Mambaonline on Monday that the thirteen remain in custody and that they have still not been charged with any crime.
“The police continue to say that they are investigating and today they again refused to give them the police bail,” she said.
Lasseko revealed that the South African embassy in Dar es Salaam has been in contact with the South Africans and that the ambassador visited them at the police station on Sunday. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), however, has yet to issue a statement on the matter.
When asked if the South African government should be more vocal in demanding the release of its citizens, Lasseko replied: “Any more pressure from anywhere right now would be welcome.”
She added: “Our concern is that what the [Tanzanian] state is doing is outside of the bounds of the law, because to hold them for all this time under the guise of investigating something, when we know that they have not committed an offence, is problematic for us.”
Earlier this year, the government shut down 40 facilities around the country that offered life-saving HIV services to men who have sex with men.
Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu claimed that the provision of lubricants and condoms at these centres was proof that they were intent on “promoting homosexuality” among young people.
Wendy Isaack, a researcher for the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, condemned the “arbitrary” arrests as “a sign of the Tanzanian government’s increasing lack of tolerance for freedom of assembly and freedom of expression”.
Isaack argued that, “the lawyers and activists are not being held for promoting homosexuality, but for challenging absurd, reactionary policies that could cost many HIV positive people their lives.”
A picket is being held outside the Tanzania High Commission in Pretoria, (822 George Avenue, Arcadia) on Tuesday at noon to protest the arrests. A petition has also been created to demand the release of the 13 detainees.
Sex acts between men are illegal in Tanzania and carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.