Politicians in Tanzania are pushing for a crackdown on the country’s LGBT community.
This week justice minister Harrison Mwakyembe said, in order to protect the “culture of Tanzanians,” he wanted a ban on pro-gay charities.
And, last month, regional commissioner Paul Makonda declared at he would use social media to track down and arrest people suspected of being gay.
“If there’s a homosexual who has a Facebook account, or with an Instagram account, all those who ‘follow’ him… are just as guilty as the the homosexual,” he told a crowd at a religious rally in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city.
Traditionally, Tanzania is viewed as having a more relaxed attitude toward homosexuality than neighboring Kenya and Uganda.
Same-sex relations are punishable by sentences of up to 30 years, but arrests rarely lead to prosecution. Instead, activists say, they’re merely a pretext for police to collect bribes.
But James Wandera Ouma, director of LGBT Voice Tanzania, says “the environment for the LGBT community is very bad right now and it’s getting worse.”
Since Makonda’s rally, Ouma says he knows of at least 20 men arrested outside bars and clubs on trumped-up charges of prostitution and loitering.
“Makonda has made people believe that it is now okay to hate LGBT people, especially gay men.,” he explains. “He has planted a hate that was not there before.”
Unsurprisingly, the crackdown is having a chilling affect on any LGBT activism in the country of 52 million.
“There are already very few activists in Tanzania, and there are very few LGBT people who are out publicly,” said Human Rights Watch’s Neela Ghoshal. “Now people feel the need to go extremely underground in order to feel safe.”
In 2013, HRW released a report detailing allegations of torture and abuse of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in police custody. One 19-year-old reported police raped and beat him on the soles of his feet with canes, electric wires, and water pipes.
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