Saturday, 22 May 2010

Zimbabwe: Police raid LGBT organisation, fears that activists may be tortured

By Paul Canning

Zimbabwean police have arrested two employees of the country’s only gay and lesbian group, the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) in a raid on the group's HQ.

They were arrested following the issuing of a search warrant by Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi for "dangerous drugs and pornographic material". Magwenzi has been involved in disappearances and extended illegal detentions of opposition MDC activists and of journalists.

Magwenzi has been implicated in torture by civil society activists. Terry Musona, an MDC activist abducted and held for four months last year who says she was tortured by him, said of her detention:
“Most of the days we were forced to sleep on a cold floor, hungry and blind folded.”
“We were tortured, denied food and medical attention during our entire period of illegal detention.”
Already police have refused to allow access by lawyers to the two GALZ employees Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi. They took all the GALZ computers and other materials from the office.

In addition to general concerns about the fate of the two, Chademana is diabetic and there are concerns for her heath.

GALZ fears that other arrests will follow:
"We understand that it is currently unsafe for GALZ employees and volunteers who are outside of Zimbabwe at various meetings, including an OSISA meeting in Johannesburg, to return to Zimbabwe as there is a concern that they will be arrested at the airport."
They say that the raid is part of growing pressure in Zimbabwe against LGBT rights:
"About a month ago, two foreign student interns were stopped at the airport trying to leave Zimbabwe and interrogated and detained.  All of the GALZ material they had in their possession was confiscated."
There has been debate on LGBT rights as part of discussion about the new constitution. The opposition MDC has failed to clarify whether it support basic protections, with Prime Minister Tsvangari quoted as opposing them at an event with President Mugabe last month.

In January the police in neighboring Malawi raided the office of human rights group Cedep, which works for gays in that country.

In 2005 late Director of GALZ Keith Goddard was arrested for the fifth time and charged with sodomy.

GALZ programmes manager for gender Fadzai Muparutsa told SW Radio Africa last month that there have been other arrests using the country's sodomy law but police harassment and corruption is a far more common problem for Zimbabwe LGBT.
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