A group of 13 lawyers and activists who were researching potential litigation against the Tanzanian government has been illegally detained for promoting homosexuality. The group was set to discuss a case about the government’s ban on HIV and AIDS centers when police took them into custody on October 17.
The group included three South African and Ugandan lawyers working for the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), nine activists with the Community Health and Education Services and Advocacy, which is a Tanzanian sex workers’ rights organization, and the manager of the hotel where the arrest took place.
The lawyers were initially released on bail. The next day, however, police issued a statement reporting that 13 people had been arrested for promoting homosexuality. The lawyers’ bail was later revoked. All 13 people have been held without charge since.
ISLA spokesperson Matilda Lasseko said, “The reality is that, if [the South Africans]broke any laws, they would’ve been charged already. What is happening now is illegal – the country is on a witch-hunt against our people.”
Lawyers for the Human Rights Commission claimed the reasoning behind the arrest was “disingenuous, given that the Tanzanian police were in possession of a concept note and agenda for the legal consultation meeting.”
There is no law explicitly prohibiting homosexuality in Tanzania; however, the government has increased measures against it this year. In February, the government ordered private health centers to stop providing HIV and AIDS services, claiming they promote homosexual activities. After that, several popular newspapers published anti-gay editorials. Most recently, in a speech before Parliament in September, the country’s Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla vowed to “fight with all [his]strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country.”
James Wandera Ouma, the director of LGBT Voice Tanzania, one of the few registered Tanzania pro-LGBT groups, explained that it has become more difficult for the group to operate. “We haven’t been able to organize meetings because everyone is afraid of what will happen…. People think, ‘If I go to this office, the police might come and arrest me,’” said Ouma.