GALZ staff members
Zimbabwe authorities have shut down the country’s gay rights organisation while a group of men accused of being gay have been beaten by thugs in Harare.
On Thursday, police charged the co-chairperson of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) with running an “unregistered” organisation following a period of high drama in which state security agents twice raided the organisation’s office.
The authorities claim that GALZ has been operating in contravention of Section 6 (iii) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act.
After charging her, police released Martha Tholanah, the organisation’s co-chairperson, who had been detained on and off last week. Both Tholanah and GALZ Programme Manager Samuel Matsikure had their fingerprints and mug shots taken for police records.
GALZ has, as a result, closed its office for the time being. Chesterfield Samba, Director of GALZ, told Mambaonline that the decision to close the office was due to “safety concerns”. He added that “we are currently operating from safer spaces”.
Tonderai Bhatasara of Mupanga Bhatasara Attorneys, representing GALZ, told The Zimbabwean on Friday that the group disputed the state’s claims.
“We are challenging the charges which they have pressed against our clients because they have been there for more than 10 years operating under the common law. But the police are saying they are supposed to be registered under the PVO Act,” said Bhatasara.
“It is not an offence to be gay under the Zimbabwean constitution but if one man sodomises another man then it becomes an offence. It is only intolerance within the society and political leadership here in Zimbabwe which [has] fuelled the vilification of gays and lesbians,” Bhatasara added.
The GALZ office was raided twice in recent weeks; first on 11 August and then on 20 August. In the first incident, 44 GALZ members were arrested and allegedly beaten by police. They were released the following morning without being charged but some were later harassed, detained and questioned again.
The second incident took place when the office was empty and saw police conduct a search of the premises. They also went through the caretaker’s occurrence book and recorded details of people who had visited the office in the past few months.
The latest campaign of intimidation and harassment against GALZ and the gay community by the authorities in Zimbabwe appears to have inspired a gang of youth to attack a group of possibly gay men in an Harare bar on Friday night.
According to Radio VOP, four young men were accused of being gay and were beaten by youth believed to be members of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party. The victims were able to escape with the help of bystanders but were reportedly left bleeding after the attack.
“We are on a national blitz on gays. They are antagonising our culture. The President has on uncountable occasions said this practice should not be tolerated in this country… these gays always patronise this beer garden. We are saying from today onwards we are going to track them down,” the leader of the youths told Radio VOP.
“It is all very disheartening that the LGBTI community is on the frontline in terms of harassment and state sponsored homophobia,” commented Samba. “All this is being done to further the agendas of bigoted Politicians.”
On Thursday, the United States condemned the ongoing harassment of the LGBT community. “We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.