Tanzania: LGBTQ activists arrested and held without charge during official anti-gay campaign in Dar es Salaam

Civic Space 3 min read
ARTICLE 19

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns recent arrests and discriminatory anti-LGBTQ statements which are part of  a crackdown against LGBTQ people in Tanzania by Dar Es Salaam Commissioner Paul Makonda.

Makonda’s comments, which urged Tanzanians to report LGBTQ people to police, and called for them to be identified and punished, have created an even more repressive environment for LGBTQ people in the country, and in particular in Dar Es Salaam.

Since the statements were made ARTICLE 19 is aware that a number of LGBTQ activists were arrested on 4 November, and have been held without charge since.

Makonda also proposed the creation of a commission, with a remit to track social media activity of Tanzanians in order to identify LGBTQ people. These comments and proposals directly violate the rights of LGBTQ people to equality and to freedom of expression, and have been met with condemnation by the government.

Despite a welcome statement by the Tanzanian government that Makonda’s  comments did not represent official government policy, which they stated respects international human rights, repression of LGBTQ people is rife in Tanzania, where consensual sex between people of the same sex is criminalised under repressive laws which proscribe up to 30 years imprisonment for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Civil society supporting or speaking out on behalf of LGBTQ people are often targeted, and LGBTQ activists operate in a restrictive environment.  President Magufuli has also closed AIDs clinics, accusing them of promoting homosexuality.

Discriminatory rhetoric like this from senior government and regional authority officials is not unusual, but contributes to an environment of discrimination where LGBTQ people and activists are denied the right to freely express themselves, as well as being subject to arbitrary detention, mistreatment and other violations.

These latest efforts by the Regional Commissioner to track online expression, which have the effect of silencing online speech, also come as part of a broader trend of silencing civil society and restricting online expression in Tanzania, where repressive laws have enabled censorship of online speech and human rights defenders and journalists have been harassed and detained.

Henry Mania, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, said,  “First and foremost the arrested activists must be released unconditionally.  Second, if the Tanzanian government truly wishes to abide by the international treaties which it has signed, it must make genuine efforts to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in the country, as well as those of civil society and the media, by reforming repressive laws and speaking out against discrimination”.