The Bronte Hotel in Harare
The Zimbabwe authorities have continued their ongoing campaign of harassment against the country’s gay rights organisation.
On Wednesday, police raided the Bronte Hotel in Harare which was hosting a Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) training workshop.
Around 20 people were attending the multimedia and internet security training meeting when police burst into the conference room.
The police arrested Natasha Dowell, a volunteer youth coordinator with GALZ, and Tawanda Maguze, a training facilitator.
Dowell was charged with contravening Section 25 (5) of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) on the basis that she should have sought authority from the police to convene the “public” meeting.
The remaining eighteen training participants had their details recorded and were asked to remain behind at the venue. They later left the venue freely.
Writing on Facebook after the raid, GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba said: “Thank you to the bold 18 activists who were in the hotel this morning. When I walked in the hotel room you all showed me faces of courage and determination, enough to uplift me who was feeling defeated… You taught me that ‘courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear’ – Mark Twain.”
Dowell has denied the charge and insisted that GALZ was exempt from complying with the POSA provision. Muguze was released without charge.
According to New Zimbabwe, the police have “continued to closely monitor GALZ operations in the country” following recent anti-gay comments by President Robert Mugabe.
Earlier this month, Mugabe said: “I understand we have a group of homosexuals in this country. I didn’t know until I was told the day before yesterday. So we want to check on who is in that group.”
Founded in 1990, GALZ has been subjected to almost constant official harassment and intimidation, including police raids on its offices, arrests and beatings of its members and various legal battles.
It appears that the authorities have adopted a strategy of hampering the organisation’s work by occupying it with intimidatory and frivolous legal actions. Last month, GALZ won a court challenge against it by the state which claimed that the group was being unlawfully operated.
In December, five members of GALZ were arrested and beaten at an end of year Christmas party in Bulawayo for wearing t-shirts that proclaimed “same love”.
Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as specified in the country’s recently adopted constitution.