Police in Tanzania arrested 20 suspected homosexuals on Saturday in Zanzibar this weekend, the latest crackdown on the country’s already marginalized LGBT community.
“Yes, we rounded them up because we suspect that they were engaged in homosexuality, which is illegal,” a police spokesperson claimed. “We will intensify vigilance against those groups.”
Eight men and 12 women were arrested at a hotel where they were attending an HIV/AIDS education training session. The Health Ministry previously closed dozens of AIDS clinics, claiming NGOs were using them to promote gay sex.
In Tanzania, “gross indecency” between men carries a five-year prison sentence, while a conviction of a sexual act “against the order of nature” can lead to up to 30 years behind bars. There is no prohibition, however, on lesbianism.
The incident is part of an sustained campaign of homophobia that began last year: In June Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba declared that Tanzanians campaigning for LGBT rights would be arrested and foreigners would be deported. “Those who want to campaign for gay rights should find another country that allows those things.”
That same month President John Magufuli blamed Westerners who “brought us drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of.”
Deputy health minister Hamisi Kigwangalla has called for newspapers to publish the names of gay men, and says forced anal examinations of suspected homosexuals will continue despite protest. His superior, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu, even banned the sale of lube, claiming it encouraged gay men to have sex.