Ignatius Muhambi, an activist working for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) arrested 22 May and tortured by police, has pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing drugs and pornographic material.
He was arrested together with Ellen Chademana, an administrative assistant at GALZ, last month at their office in Harare and charged with being in possession of obscene, indecent or prohibited articles in contravention of Section 26 (1) (b) of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act.
The police also charged Chademana and Mhambi with contravening Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly undermining the authority of President Robert Mugabe although that charge was not initially raised in court.
The police allege that the GALZ employees displayed a plaque of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown Jr in their office in which the African-American politician denounces President Robert Mugabe’s homophobia against gays and lesbians.
Activists have questioned the timing of the arrests. Says African Activist:
With the constitutional outreach programs underway, the timing of the arrests of LGBTI activists in Zimbabwe is suspicious. Right now they are focused on their defense, not on advocating for LGBTI rights in the new constitution. In addition, the state can use these arrests to create a negative story about LGBTI people at the very time Zimbabwe considers the new constitution.GALZ said immediately after the arrests 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.It now appears that these fears are being realised in the 'chaotic' constitution outreach programme.
Zimbabwe Independent reports that LGBTI rights are being used by Mugabe's party to push through his version of a new Zimbabwe constitution, known as the 'Kariba draft':
The issue of gay rights has taken centre stage in the constitution outreach programme with Zanu PF reportedly telling villagers in Mashonaland West that any constitutional provisions outside what is in the controversial Kariba draft will promote same sex marriages and homosexuality.Zimbabwean Prime Minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangiri called 30 June for a constitution that upholds non-judgemental tolerance:
Villagers in President Robert Mugabe’s rural home in Zvimba, 110km west of Harare, and neighbouring Chitomborwizi in Makonde district now strongly believe that those calling for a people-driven constitution, who are opposed to the Kariba draft, want to include the issue of gay rights in the new constitution. Zanu PF, the villagers allege, is using homosexuality, something which they know people – particularly those in rural areas – are strongly opposed to, to make sure that they parrot what is in the Kariba draft.
Villagers claimed that Zanu PF campaigned for the Kariba draft, written by the three political parties in the inclusive government, during meetings prior to the constitution outreach programme. Villagers in Chief Chirau’s area, also known as Kawondera village in Zvimba, say that they were addressed by soldiers three weeks ago, who told them that they should demand a constitution with an executive president who has far-reaching powers to appoint without any consultation.
The villagers refused to be named for fear of being victimised for adopting what might be perceived as “anti-Zanu PF” positions on the constitution.
The importance of non-judgmental tolerance cannot be over-emphasised. While the dark decade that we have recently endured can be analysed and attributed to a number of causes, the ultimate cause of the suffering, persecution and poverty that marred the past ten years was intolerance. Our new Constitution must ensure that in Zimbabwe there is no longer room for such negative attitudes towards the right of others to live, worship and support according to their own dreams and desires.He also wrote 31 March:
There can be no place in the new Zimbabwe for hate speech or the persecution of any sector of our population based on race, gender, tribe, culture, sexual orientation or political affiliation.However in April remarks reported in the government-run media by Tsvangiri at a rally alongside President Robert Mugabe (Afrik.com reported Tsvangirai's remarks as: “I don't agree with the idea of a man breathing hard on the neck of another man while humping him") seemed to suggest his opposition to the country's new constitution offering any protections for LGBTI. An official in Tsvangirai’s office later told reporters that the Prime Minister had only been expressing his personal views and not those of his party.
As well, COPAC, whose principals are Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, has said in advance of the consultations that no protections for LGBT would be included in the new constitution and that their 'outreach teams' will not elicit any views on the issue.
COPAC chairperson Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana claimed that "during the outreach training programme, the issue was never raised" and that "the issue of gays and lesbians has been shunned by all the three principals to the Global Political Agreement".