Hundreds are reportedly feeling Tanzania and entering neighboring countries amid a crackdown against the LGBTQ community.
In late October, the governor of the country’s economic capital, Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda (below) encouraged citizens to turn in people they suspected of being gay, and said the Tanzania Communications Authority and local police would scour social media posts to find members of the LGBTQ community and arrest them.
The Tanzanian government released a statement distancing itself from Governor Makonda’s proclamation, saying he was “only airing his personal opinion,” that his orders were not official government policy, and that they would “continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country’s constitution.”
Despite that assurance, in early November ten men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, on suspicion of being gay, Religion News Service reports.
“I’m fearing for my life—they don’t want us to stay here,” Omar, 28, told the publication as he prepared to cross the border into Kenya. “The gay community is very scared because police are breaking into homes of suspected homosexuals and arresting them. I don’t want to be the next person. I’m going into hiding.”
“We have no option than to hide until things get better,” said James Wandera, founder of LGBT Voice Tanzania. “The gay community is living in fear and some have escaped to other countries. But we are ready to defend those who have been arrested by the government.”
Gay sex is still illegal in Tanzania, under a colonial-era law that can result in those found guilty facing decades in prison.
Amnesty International denounced Governor Makonda’s announcement in October, and the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned its citizens throughout Tanzania to “remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.”