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Thursday, 27 May 2010

Zimbabwe: Detained LGBT rights workers beaten and tortured

By Paul Canning

As we reported on Saturday, fears that the two detained LGBT rights workers would be tortured have unfortunately proved correct.
  • Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said yesterday that Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi, who work for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), have been beaten and tortured in police custody.  
  • GALZ has suggested that this is a backlash from their participation in the constitutional review process.
  • The home of GALZ's Director has also been raided.
Edited to add: Ellen and Ignatius have been released on bail.

Edited to add: See South African Mail & Guardian analysis at end - Is the crackdown about Zanu-PF baiting Tsvangari and his party?

The warrant to raid GALZ last week was issued by Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi who has been implicated in the torture of civil society activists.

ZLHR said:
David Hofisi and Dzimbabwe Chimbga, the lawyers representing the two employees Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi told Harare Magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi that their clients were tortured during their detention in police cells and asked for an investigation into the alleged torture.

Mhambi alleged that police used empty soft drinks bottles to assault him on his knees and forced him to “sit” in a position without a chair or any other tool for a long period. Chademana said the police also forced her to undertake the same action for a long period.

Both detainees allege that they were subjected to assaults all over their bodies.

Magistrate Mutevedzi initially ordered the police to surrender the two GALZ employees to Harare Remand Prison. However the police indicated that they would not be able to transfer the duo, forcing Magistrate Mutevedzi to publicly caution the police to only detain the two employees in police cells and not to torture or assault them whilst in cells until Thursday morning when they are supposed to be brought to court for the finalization of the bail application.

Meanwhile High Court Judge, Justice Joseph Musakwa will on Thursday 27 May at 14:15hrs preside over an Urgent Chamber Application filed by Chademana and Mhambi’s lawyers seeking their release. In their application the lawyers have requested the Officer in Charge of CID Drugs, only identified as Chibvuma, and Detective Inspector Gomo to release the two GALZ employees from the custody of the police because their arrest and detention is unlawful.

The lawyers argue that the arrest and detention of the two GALZ employees is now beyond the statutory 48 hour period provided for by Section 32 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act (Chapter 9:07).

The Urgent Chamber Application was filed at the High Court in Harare on Tuesday 25 May 2010 at 13:00hrs. The Duty Judge, Justice Lavender Makoni, after asking the clerk to read the Certificate of Urgency to her over the telephone, stated that the matter “could wait” until the following day. It was following this delay that police unlawfully removed Chademana and Mhambi from their police holding cell and subjected them to the assaults described above, which amount to torture under the Constitution of Zimbabwe and various regional and international instruments to which Zimbabwe has become a voluntary State Party.

The concerns were raised in a letter to the Judge President, Justice George Chiweshe, and by way of a Supplementary Affidavit filed in the High Court by the detainees’ lawyer, Dzimbabwe Chimbga. An urgent set-down of the matter for today was requested in light of the safety and security concerns; however the High Court saw it fit to delay the matter further, to Thursday afternoon.

In what appears to be a major attack on organised LGBT Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reports that the police have raided the house of Chesterfield Samba, the Director of GALZ.

They said:
Five police officers from the Zimbabwe Republic Police searched the house and confiscated Mr. Samba’s birth certificate, passport photo, magazines and business cards. Mr. Samba was not present during the ordeal, but the family members there report that the police asked for his whereabouts and when he will return.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) condemns this conduct by the police in the strongest terms. The conduct of the police is unwarranted and is testament of the levels of intolerance within the police force and our government. Further the Forum questions the independence of the police in executing what clearly are political instructions against the gay and lesbian community in Zimbabwe.

The Forum reiterates its calls to all civil society organisations to stand in support of GALZ as fellow comrades in the struggle for human rights, being mindful of the fact that such repression can easily happen to any organisation fighting impunity in this country.
The Associated Press has reported that the charges against Chademana and Muhambi are under Zimbabwe's censorship law - not for possessing drugs and pornographic material as reported elsewhere. The lawyer, David Hofisi, from ZLHR, said they were charged with undermining Mugabe by allegedly displaying a plaque in their office showing former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown Jr denouncing the President’s homophobia.

We reported yesterday that confirmation has finally come that Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangari's opposition MDC-T party has abandoned the move for some legal protections for that country's LGBT community, proposed during the constitutional review process.

GALZ says that:
We believe the pair are being victimised as a direct result of GALZ making a submission to the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (COPAC), despite the call for submissions for this process. We ask the question, is government asking for participation so as to clamp down on individuals and organisations that contribute to the process?
South Africa's Mail & Guardian said:
Despite Mugabe’s rhetoric, arrests of gays have been rare and the raids appear to be an attempt by Zanu-PF to bait the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has no coherent position on gay rights. Zanu-PF could be looking to put Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on the spot - he cannot condemn the arrests without being seen as supporting gay rights, which are strongly opposed by his supporters. But he cannot support the arrests as this will anger his civil society allies and Western supporters, who want an end to years of restrictions on personal freedom under Mugabe.

In March, while jointly addressing a Women’s Day rally with Mugabe, Tsvangirai backed Mugabe’s stance on gays. “I have heard President Mugabe speak about men who breathe into other men’s ears,” Tsvangirai said, to cheers and laughter. “I too disagree. Why would a man look for another man? There are more women than men anyway.”

But, reflecting the MDC’s unclear position, days later an official in Tsvangirai’s office told reporters the prime minister had only been expressing his personal views and not those of his party.

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