Africa

Zimbabwean Police Officers Raid Gay Rights Organization

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.

Activists Advocate for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe. (Photo Courtesy of The International Business Times)
Activists Advocate for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe. (Photo Courtesy of The International Business Times)

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

Gambia vows to Execute all Death Row Inmates

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BANJUL, Gambia – Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh declared that his government vows to execute all prisoners who had been sentenced to death by September.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
(Photo courtesy of Gambia News)

According to Jammeh, the executions are meant to end the rise of “brutal killings” and “heinous crimes” in the country. “I will set an example on all those who have been condemned,” he proclaimed in a televised meeting with the country’s Muslim elders and religious leaders last Sunday.

Human rights groups report that Gambia has currently sentenced 44 inmates to death, including 2 women, since last year. Crimes that receive the capital punishment as penalty include murder and treason.

Once implemented, the President’s decree will mark the end of an execution-free regime that has been in place for almost 30 years. Gambia last executed a prisoner in 1985. The resumption of the death penalty will also make Gambia the only West African country to inflict capital punishment upon its prisoners. Togo, Burundi, Gabon and Rwanda have abolished the death penalty for all crimes in the last five years.

Known in Gambia as His Excellency, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian Leader has already made similar threats several years ago. For instance, in 1995, Jammeh’s government reinstated the death penalty. Almost a decade later, he issued another statement saying that his administration will see to it that all death row inmates will be executed as soon as possible. None of these intended executions, however, have been carried out. Despite this, Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International still consider President Jammeh’s recent announcement “a matter for serious concern”.

“Any attempt to carry out this threat would be both deeply shocking and a major set-back for human rights in Gambia,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa director. “The President’s statement is in stark contracts to the trend, both in West Africa and globally, towards ending the use of the death penalty,” she added.

In his article for Think Africa Press, Journalist Bubacarr Sowe expressed his dismay regarding the President’s administration. He writes that over the past couple of years, President Jammeh has made decisions that run counter to the President’s “promises of transparency, accountability and probity” – promises he made when he led a coup that ended former Gambian President Dawda Jawara’s 30-year rule. “Instead,” Sowe writes, “the administration is, like its predecessor, tainted with evidence of corruption and misappropriation of state resources.”

Notwithstanding the backlash against Jammeh’s regime, the President has maintained a steady number of supporters due to a recent boost in infrastructure projects which include the building of schools and hospitals, a new airport and the Gambia’s first university.

 

For further information, please see:

CNN – Gambia vows to execute all death row inmates by September, sparking outcry – 23 August 2012

AP – Gambia president vows to execute death row inmates – 22 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: Murder Convicts Will Be Executed President Jammeh Tells Muslim Elders – 21 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: President Jammeh Must Retract Call for Execution of Death Row Inmates – 21 August 2012

All Africa – Gambia: Yahya Jammeh – 18 Years and Counting – 2 August 2012

South Africa Reacts to Lonmin Massacre

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

PRETORIA, South Africa—Police, armed with automatic rifles and pistols, opened fire on a crowd of 3,000 workers of the Lonmin mining firm on August 17, killing 34 and injuring 78. The incident has been called the most lethal police action since the end of apartheid.

Police officer walks among bodies the shooting. (Photo courtesy of News24)

The miners had been on illegal strike for six days in an effort to have their wages raised from 4,000 rand per month (approximately $484) to 12,000 rand per month (approximately $1512). Bearing spears, traditional fighting sticks, and machetes, 250 miners were arrested for public violence. They are expected to appear in court soon.

“We are angry,” said a victim’s family member. “Why must people be killed because they are protesting?”

Mangwashi “Riya” Phiyega, the newly appointed Police Commissioner, said officers were acting in self-defense when they fired on the miners after they had attempted to dilute the crowd with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

While the circumstances surrounding the tragic event are somewhat unclear, some witness accounts suggest the shooting was a response to the workers rushing a line of police officers.

On the Wednesday following the shooting, President Jacob Zuma spoke with a crowd of survivors, informing them that the government had no intentions of killing anyone that day. The crowd reacted by shouting “phansi amaphoyisa phansi,” which means “down with the police.”

President Zuma has been criticized for his handling of the situation, which has had a critical impact on the nation’s investors. Financiers have previously expressed distrust in the nation’s legal system in light of statistics showing the country suffers 43 murders each day, which is more than six times the murder rate in the United States.

The tragedy “will make it more difficult for South Africa to attract foreign investment,” Carmen Altenkirch, a sovereign analyst at Fitch Ratings in London, told Bloomberg.

South Africa is one of the largest platinum producers in the world and the nation’s economy relies on mining of resources for almost two-thirds of its exports. The day news of the massacre was released, the rand fell 1.8% against the dollar.

President Zuma created a judicial inquiry and committee of cabinet ministers to investigate and take action against those responsible, if necessary. However, he has publicly announced he will not terminate Phiyega.

“We need answers,” said Julius Malema, a spokesperson for the mineworkers. “I don’t trust President Zuma and his inquiry.”

President Zuma has declared a week of national mourning from August 20 through 26. Flags across the country and at missions outside South Africa’s borders will fly at half-mast this week.

Lonmin threatened surviving workers with dismissal, however, if they failed to return to the job by August 20.

 

For further information, please see:

Mail & Guardian OnlineZuma on Lonmin: Government Didn’t Plan to Kill Anyone22 August 2012

Bloomberg—Zuma Rejects Criticisms of Handling of Lonmin Mine Deaths22 August 2012

Mail & Guardian OnlineDeep Read: In the Eye of the Lonmin Storm20 August 2012

BBC News AfricaS. Africa Lonmin Killings: National Mourning Declared19 August 2012

 

Kidnapping in Nigeria Continues

By Vicki Turakhia
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – Police in Nigeria have denied the accusation that almost 1,000 people have been kidnapped from January of 2008 until August of 2012, but a group called Campaign for Democracy states differently.

Nigeria has a reputation for kidnappings. (Photo Courtesy of George Esiri/Reuters)

Previously robberies were more common than kidnappings, but criminals are learning that there is a higher chance for profits in a kidnapping. These kidnappings have led to ransoms costing people a total of 1.2 billion naira during that time period. The costs range anywhere from 5 million to 30 million naira per person kidnapped.

Victims of the kidnappings include singing and dancing Nigerian stars and prominent members of society, which is a change from the foreign oil company officials previously kidnapped. The Enugu State University Vice Chancellor was abducted on August 15th,  causing the University’s security to be questioned.

The Vice Chancellor is known for his hard work and dedication to the school, he has brought about change and reform to Enugu State University. The authorities are hopeful about his release.

Nigeria is the eighth highest in kidnapping around the world. In 2010, 512 people had been kidnapped compared to the 353 for the total of 2009. In January of 2008 the average rate of reported kidnappings was about one every 10 days.

Not only is there a rise in kidnappings, but in other crimes as well such as assassinations, armed robberies, and arson. These criminal acts are said to occur due to joblessness, homelessness, and the decreasing access to education. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) blames the government for the difficulties that spread across the nation.

A U.S. based social group has stated that the insecurity has led to a lack of foreign investments. The group calls for a permanent solution otherwise the instability in Nigeria will continue to hurt the economy.

Solutions to the kidnappings include removing the buildings used for housing kidnapped victims. The local government is looking to increase the penalties for kidnapping. The government has also included development centers, these centers provide greater knowledge and communication about the growing rise in kidnapping.

However, the police do question the source of information obtained by the Campaign for Democracy, so the numbers are being confirmed by the Deputy Force. But, the U.S. State Department maintains that a majority of kidnappings go unreported.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – Nigeria: 938 Persons Kidnapped in South East – Campaign for Democracy – 17 August 2012

All Africa – Nigeria: ASUU Blames Bombings, Kidnappings on Injustice – 14 August 2012

All Africa – Nigeria: U.S. Based Group Wants Govt to Tackle Kidnapping – 29 July 2012

Global Post – Nigeria’s Kidnapping Culture on the Rise – 30 May 2010

The Guardian Nigeria – Pharmacists Seek Release of Kidnapped ESUTH VC – 18 August 2012

 

Muslim Leaders Detained After Series of Protests

By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Following a series of protests, human rights groups are urging the authorities to free 17 prominent Muslim leaders on Wednesday, 15 August.

An Ethiopian Pilgrim. (Photo courtesy of Michel Hoebink/ RNW)

Since mid-July, Addis Ababa’s Awalia and Anwar mosques saw the arrest, harassment and assault on hundreds of Muslims, with local journalists and media outlets covering the protests also coming under fire. And though most of the detainees have been released, 17 are still in captivity.

For months, these protesters would march to the streets after their Friday prayers. According to the reports, most Ethiopian Muslims believe that the government is unconstitutionally interfering with their religious affairs. Such interference is reflected in the government actively imposing candidates from a moderate Islamic sect known as al Ahbash to the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs as an attempt to control the operations of some mosques. Also, several Ethiopian Muslims feel that majority of the members of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs do not represent the interests of the country’s Muslim community.

On the other hand, the government has repeatedly denied the claims of interference; rather, it has insisted that these protests are part of a ploy of “extremist groups” “to turn the nation into an Islamic state”. The Muslim protesters, as far as the government is concerned, have been deliberately disrupting the “peaceful” public and stirring the Muslim community to further such ends.

A dominantly Christian nation, Ethiopia used to be a picture of religious tolerance. But as of late, religious related conflicts have been a major concern.

The families of several Muslim protesters have been included in the crackdown. Law enforcement officers have reportedly searched their houses. Some were even placed under house arrest. For instance, the families of two journalists, Akemel Negash and Isaac Eshetu, were prohibited from leaving their residences and placed under surveillance for at least ten days. The police also seized the personal belongings of other journalists including their cellphones, cameras and computers.

Under the government’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has been criticized for being vague and in violation of fundamental due process rights such as holding suspects to up to four months in custody without charge, authorities have convicted at least 34 opposition members, journalists, and others since 2011.

In April 2012, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said freedom of religion is respected under the constitution, but some Ethiopian Muslims were engaged in revolutionary acts and attempts to establish an Islamic state.

 

For further information, please see:

AFP – Call to Free Ethiopia’s Jailed Muslim Protesters – 16 August 2012

All Africa – Ethiopia: Human Rights Group Urges Immediate Release of Jailed Ethiopian Muslim Leaders – 15 August 2012

All Africa – Ethiopia – Prominent Muslims Detained in Crackdown – Security Forces Arrest Hundreds of Peaceful Protesters – Detainees at Risk – 15 August 2012

All Africa – Ethiopian Police Targer Muslim Leaders, Press in Attempts to Stifle Protests – 15 August 2012