Ten men arrested on the island of Zanzibar are believed to be the first reported victims of the latest anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Tanzania.
Amnesty International reports that the men were targeted after police received a “tip-off” from members of the public about a same-sex marriage taking place.
The arrests follow a new witch hunt against LGBTQ people announced by the governor of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda. Last week, he called on the public to name or turn in people suspected of homosexuality to a 17-member team.
In response to global outrage over the persecution, the country’s foreign ministry said that Makonda’s plans were “his own views and not the government position.”
These arrests have put paid to hopes that the national government in Tanzania would halt its own persecution of the LGBTQ community or that the effects of Makonda’s campaign would be limited to Dar es Salaam.
“This is a shocking blow following the Tanzanian government’s assurance that no one would be targeted and arrested because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“We now fear these men may be subjected to forced anal examination, the government’s method of choice for ‘proving’ same-sex sexual activity among men. This must not be allowed to happen – these men must be released immediately.”
According to Amnesty, the 10 men were arrested when police raided a party at Pongwe Beach, Zanzibar on Saturday night (3 November). Six others at the event fled. The 10 are being held at Chakwa police station in Unguja, despite no charges being brought against them.
The organisation believes that the men were arrested for allegedly conducting a gay marriage, with police saying they found the men sitting in pairs “two by two”.
“It is mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions. The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court, despite arresting them three days ago,” said Seif Magango.
Over the past three years, Tanzania has been in the midst of an ongoing campaign against LGBTQ people. This has included arresting individuals for the non-existent offence of “promoting homosexuality” and blocking life-saving sexual health services to men who have sex with men.
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.