Dar es Salaam (Pic: Ali Damji)
Activists have called for embassies in Tanzania to open their doors to victims of that country’s new LGBTIQ witch hunt.
Last week, the Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, told reporters he’d set up a 17-member task team to target and arrest LGBTIQ people in the region. He also called on the public to submit the names of those they believe are homosexual to the authorities.
The news led to panic and fear within the country’s LGBTIQ community, amidst reports of violence and invasion of privacy and growing discrimination and stigma.
South African based LGBTIQ organisation Access Chapter 2 called Makonda’s plans “hate crime and hate speech against a vulnerable population constantly facing difficulty finding acceptance.” The group said the crackdown “robs LGBTIQ people of their freedom and the opportunity to live dignified lives as their true selves.”
It further called on Tanzania’s president to condemn the attacks against LGBTIQ people and for the African Union (AU) to take action. “It is unacceptable that States continue to sponsor homophobia, such that a Tanzanian government official goes out to witch hunt LGBTIQ persons,” commented Steve Letsike, the Executive Director of Access Chapter 2.
“The AU must really address the level of homophobia and transphobia in Africa. AU and States must account for the human rights violation taking place in the region,” she said.
The AU, however, has shown little appetite to intervene in matters affecting LGBTIQ Africans. It was recently accused of pressuring the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to withdrawn the observer status of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).
Letsike also urged embassies and consulates in Tanzania to open their doors to protect LGBTIQ people and for safe houses to be set up for victims.
On Saturday, the US Embassy in Tanzania warned its citizens to make sure their social media profiles did not contain any material that could offend the authorities. “Remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity,” said the embassy.
Meanwhile, the Tanzanian government has to some degree distanced itself from Makonda’s which hunt, which has caused international outrage. “The government of the United Republic of Tanzania would like to clarify that those are his own views and not the government position,” said the foreign ministry in a statement. It did not, however, say that it would take steps to stop the persecution.
Under colonial-era legislation, sex between people of the same sex is illegal and carries prison sentences including the maximum penalty of 30 years in jail. Men arrested for this “crime” often face forced anal exams as “evidence” that they engaged in sex.
In 2016, the government shut down 40 facilities that offered life-saving HIV services to men who have sex with men (MSM). In October last year, police arrested 12 people, including two South African lawyers, over claims that they were “promoting homosexuality.”