Two women in Tanzania alleged to have gotten married on video, as well as others said to be involved in the wedding ceremony, have appeared in court.
According to local reports, the women, who are aged 35 and 25, exchanged rings and kissed in a video that went viral on social media.
Police hunted down the couple and have also arrested two others. One individual is accused of having been the master of ceremonies at the event and the other is believed to have posted the video online.
The women have been charged by prosecutors with lesbianism and violating Section 138A of the penal code which outlaws “acts of gross indecency between persons”.
Police are said to be searching for others who may have participated in the apparent wedding ceremony.
The women appeared in the Mwanza Resident Magistrate Court in northern Tanzania and have thus far been refused bail pending further investigations.
Sex between people of the same sex is illegal in Tanzania and carries prison sentences including the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Men arrested for this “crime” often face forced anal exams to “prove” that they have engaged in sex.
Africanews reported that regional police commander Ahmed Msangi warned that the “incidence of homosexuality” was on the rise and called for members of the public to come forward with “information on persons engaged in the act”.
Tanzania is in a midst of a widespread crackdown on LGBTIQ people, including arresting individuals for the non-existent offence of “promoting homosexuality”.
President John Magufuli has condemned homosexuality and claimed that it is being “spread” in Tanzania through the support of the West. Minister for Home Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, has also promised to arrest those involved in “organisations and institutions that campaign and pretend to protect homosexual interests”.
Last year, the government shut down 40 facilities that offered life-saving HIV services to men who have sex with men (MSM), severely hampering efforts to tackle the virus in the country. It has also banned the provision of lubricants to MSM.
In September, 20 individuals were arrested for “suspicion” of homosexuality at an HIV workshop in Zanzibar.
In October police arrested 13 people, including two South African lawyers, at a hotel in Dar es Salaam for meeting to discuss challenging the government’s ban on providing HIV services to MSM. They too were accused of promoting homosexuality.