GALZ staff members

Zimbabwe gay right groups GALZ, which was recently shut down by police, has defiantly refuted claims that it is operating illegally and says it will continue to operate, despite official harassment.

Following incidents of intimidation, raids and unwarranted arrests of its members by police, on 23 August the authorities charged the co-chairperson of GALZ with running an “unregistered” organisation.

The police stated that GALZ must be registered under Section 6 (iii) of the Private Voluntary Organisation Act to operate, despite it being extremely unlikely that any LGBTI group would be allowed to register.

The organisation, which has been in operation for over two decades, immediately closed its doors pending further developments.

On Thursday, GALZ announced that its lawyers confirmed that the organisation did not have to register under the act to operate, as claimed by the authorities.

“GALZ is recognised under the law as an association or a universitas. Accordingly, in terms of the Common Law of Zimbabwe…it has no need to register in terms of any legislation or under any statute in order to acquire legal personality or for it to constitute a juristic person for the purposes of Zimbabwean law,” said the group in a statement.

It explained, however, that while it would continue to work with its membership, providing support, counselling, advice and other services, it would keep its office and resources centre closed for now “to minimise the risk of arrests”.

GALZ said that during a recent raid eight GALZ staff computers were seized together with other information and materials that remain in the possession of the police.

“We are in the process of trying to have the seized equipment and materials returned [and] we are working to repair the damage caused during the raid on our premises,” said the organisation, adding that “there is continued surveillance on the GALZ resource centre, making it difficult for GALZ staff to resume operations normally”.

It also stated that intimidation of GALZ members “continues unabated” and that its members have reported continued police visits to their homes and places of work.

“Police are calling and threatening members for no apparent reasons. GALZ views this as a disguised attempt to intimidate our members and further isolate them from GALZ services,” the group said.

The organisation noted with dismay that among the revisions to the country’s draft constitution, which is currently being negotiated, Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party put forward amendments to constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriages as well as homosexuality and gay and lesbian “practices”.

If included in the final constitution this would worsen the already perilous legal status of gay and lesbian people in Zimbabwe, where same-gender sex and public affection are illegal.

“This is a worrying development and one which needs attention [in light of] the events of the last weeks,” said the group, adding that it “remains resolute in its quest to represent and protect the rights and interests of all LGBTI citizens despite such unprecedented challenges on its human rights defenders.”

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