The Tanzanian plan for a public surveillance squad and police round-up of gay Tanzanians ran into strong opposition today, even as reports circulated that arrests are already under way. Opposing the plan, Fatma Karume, president of Tanzania’s bar association, expressed her support for the right of homosexuals to have equal treatment before the law.
She noted that Tanzania has a law against sodomy; it is not a law against being a homosexual.
Karume is the daughter of former Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume. She is president of the Tanganyika Law Society, the national bar association that has been in existence since 1954, when the country was the part of the British Empire known as Tanganyika.
She wrote on Twitter:
I support everyone’s right to live in peace and that includes homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals, asexuals. What people do sexually amongst consenting adults is their business!
Meanwhile, Paul Makonda, the governor of Tanzania’s largest city, Dar-es-Salaam, outlined plans for adopting a police-state technique — surveillance of personal communications — and anal testing of suspects with the goal of creating “a non-gay city.”
Contrary to actual Tanzanian law, Makonda alleges that homosexuality (not just homosexual activity) is a crime.
“In Dar es Salaam, homosexuality is not a human right; homosexuality is a criminal offence,” he said.
In a press conference on Oct. 31, he declared that any nation supporting the human rights of homosexuals should give asylum to Tanzania’s homosexuals. He said (in Swahili, translated here into English):
“If you really see gays, … take them and live with them in your country. Because they are able to come to you and say, ‘We are rejected in Tanzania’ or ‘We are rejected in Dar es Salaam.’ So take them and let them stay with you. But in our region we do not need gays.”
Makonda on Oct. 29 urged citizens to call him with the names of homosexuals living in Dar es Salaam. He said that his anti-gay “ad hoc team” will “get their hands on them next Monday [Nov. 5].” According to some reports, police have already begun arresting LGBT Tanzanians who have been prominent on social media. Local observers predicted in online commentaries that Makonda’s appeal will be abused by citizens who report straight people they dislike.
To lead the crackdown, Makonda announced that he has established a 17-person team including police officers, doctors, psychologists, members of the film board and officials from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.
When suspected gay people are found by his team, Makonda said they will be subjected to medical tests to assess whether they are gay. [Editor’s note: Anal exams are notorious for being both abusive and worthless in determining a person’s sexual behavior. They have been outlawed recently in Kenya and abandoned as an investigatory technique in Tunisia.]
Communications experts will monitor citizens’ communications, he said. He warned the public to delete any sexually explicit photos from their mobile phones before the search begins on Nov. 5.
An apparent trigger for Makonda’s anti-gay campaign was the online leak of an explicit heterosexual video showing Tanzanian celebrity singer and socialite Amber Rutty having anal sex with two men. Like homosexual intimacy, that sex act is a crime in Tanzania, so Rutty could face a prison sentence of 30 years to life if she is charged and convicted.
Amid Makonda’s preparations for the anti-gay round-up, Karume at the bar association came to the defense of LGBT people’s rights. She tweeted today:
“I support everyone’s right to equality before the law and that includes homosexuals.”
In response to a Twitter user who predicted that homosexuals will be “extinguished” because the world doesn’t need them, Karuma wrote:
Homosexuals will never be extinguished unless EVIL people like you commit genocide. They existed before you were even thought of and they will continue to exist long after you have left this earth.
She challenged critics to focus on human rights rather than on specific types of sexual activity:
How many times do I have to say this: I support the right of homosexuals to have equal treatment before the law. You on the other hand are focussed on sex and the different ways of having sex. … Get your mind out of the gutter.
Tanzanian LGBTQ rights activist Geofrey Mashala, who is currently in the United States working on a video about the persecution of LGBTQ Tanzanians, urged sexual minorities in Tanzania to go into hiding:
“My advice to all LGBT people, especially those one who are LGBT activists, … is to seek a safe place and go there as soon as they can. Their safety must be prioritized. Anything bad can happen in any moment.
“Also they should make sure they’re documenting everything that is going on now so they can use all that as a source of lobbying and advocating for their rights for now and the future.”
Mashala also has advice for LGBT rights supporters in the West:
They should accept and help any Tanzanians who seek refuge. They should also use international platforms like ACHPR (the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights), the African Union and all U.N. agencies that deal with human rights, to put pressure against all these human rights violations that are happening in Tanzania. Make them know that a human being is a human being regardless their sexual identities or orientation. They all deserve dignity and all basic human rights. Being gay doesn’t take the humanity off of someone.