By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa Desk
HARARE, Zimbabwe—On August 20, Zimbabwean police officers forcibly occupied the Harare organizational offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), which advocates for national gay rights and provides health education and counseling. This was the second police raid of GALZ this month.
Officers confiscated computers, gay rights advocacy materials, DVDs, pamphlets, CDs, and other important documents, accusing the organization of operating without a license, in violation of the Private Voluntary Organizations Act. The “truckloads” of officers responsible for the invasion completely shut down the organization upon their departure.
The raid lasted six hours, most of which was conducted without a search warrant. When police finally provided a warrant in response to GALZ’s attorney’s demands, it stated the purpose of the raid was that GALZ was “in possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution.”
Forty-four members of the organization were arrested and will be tried, although a trial date has not yet been set, according to GALZ attorney Tonderai Bhatasara.
“It’s not an offense to be gay under the Zimbabwean Constitution,” Bhatasara explained, “but, if one man sodomized another man, then it becomes an offense. It is only intolerance within the society and political leadership here in Zimbabwe which have fueled the vilification of gays and lesbians.”
Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangrai and President Robert Mugabe calling for the government to immediately stop persecuting members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, and, specifically, GALZ.
This incident comes on the heels of a similar police raid that took place on August 11. On that occasion, police forcibly entered a GALZ office without a warrant in response to the organization’s publication of the 2011 LGBTI Rights Violation Report as well as a briefing of the progress of the new Zimbabwe Constitution, which is currently being drafted. President Mugabe vowed to exclude LBGTI rights in the new Constitution.
The police detained and assaulted forty-four GALZ members with batons, slaps, and punches during the August 11 attack, forcing some of the victims to seek medical attention for the injuries they suffered.
The week following the August 11 raid, the police entered the homes of various GALZ members and forced them to accompany officers to police headquarters, where the individuals were questioned.
“Such use of force is in direct contradiction to the Global Political Agreement,” said a GALZ spokesperson. The Global Political Agreement established a power-sharing government in 2009 with the intention of resolving Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis and illuminating a new national political direction.
GALZ has been the target of multiple other violent assaults at the hand of the Zimbabwean government, most of which subject the organization’s officers to intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and beatings.
Specifically, in May 2010, two GALZ staff members were arrested after displaying a letter from San Francisco’s mayor calling President Mugabe “homophobic.” The two individuals were assaulted and detained for six days while police officials attempted to coerce them into providing a GALZ member list.
The staff members were charged with “insulting the President,” which is a criminal offense in Zimbabwe, although both were acquitted six months later. One of the arrest victims has since fled Zimbabwe out of fear for her personal safety.
GALZ, however, has not yet retracted the mayor’s letter from public display, prompting police to concentrate on the organization’s director during their criminal investigation of the Presidential insult. The director has been threatened with prosecution for this crime unless the organization brings forth another member willing to be prosecuted for the offense.
The U.S. State Department Spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland condemned the raids saying the U.S. “stands in solidarity” with Zimbabwe’s gay rights activists and other civil society.
“We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” Nuland said. “We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to eradicate the culture of impunity that allows members of the security sector to continue to violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people.”
Similarly, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has condemned the police actions against GALZ and has monitored and recorded incidents of anti-gay government action. Notably, a speech from government figures in May 2012 urged Zimbabwean chiefs to banish “people who support homosexuality” from their communities and disposes them of their land.
GALZ has responded publicly to the police raids by saying, “[we] do not condone violence and we are not a threat. Those who cause violence are a threat to public safety and security and we ask that they stay away from our premises.”
For further information, please see:
Human Rights Watch—Zimbabwe: End Attacks on LGBT People—27 August 2012
ZimEye—U.S. Gov’t Blasts Zimbabwe Over Gay Group Raids—25 August 2012
The Zimbabwean—ZLHR Condemns GALZ Raids and State-Sponsored Homophobia Against LGBTS—23 August 2012
NewsDay—44 GALZ Members Arrested—13 August 2012