International Human Rights groups have called on the Zimbabwe government to drop politically motivated charges against the two LGBT activists arrested last week.
They said in a letter to Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights defenders, that the incident “is an attack on all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe”.
In a raid on the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) in Harare, police arrested GALZ staff member, Ellen Chadenama, and a visitor to the offices, Ignatius Mhambi.
They were charged with possession of “dangerous drugs” and “pornographic material,” and police confiscated educational material.
On May 24, a Zimbabwean magistrate’s court added the charge of “undermining authority of or insulting [the] president” because the GALZ office displayed a placard that made a critical reference to President Robert Mugabe.
“This is not the first time a state has used antiquated public decency laws to garner public support for intimidation and harassment of legitimate sexual rights work,” said Shaun Kirven, advocacy officer at Protection International.
“These attacks only inflame public intolerance and prevent the international community from taking action against state-sponsored homo and transphobia.”
Other GALZ staff members, including some who were out of Zimbabwe at the time of the arrests, are reportedly afraid to return home or to the GALZ office, and the work of the organisation has effectively been halted.
GALZ, the only organisation of its kind in the country, provides critical HIV/AIDS and psychological support and services to the LGBT community in Zimbabwe.
“The raid on GALZ and the arrests and charges severely impede the work of an organization that provides life-saving services to a marginalised population,” said Chivuli Ukwimi, health and human rights officer at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
“It is time for the government of Zimbabwe to deliver on its promise of equality and justice to all members of society.”
The two activists have been released on bail and are set to appear in court on June 10.