Last year Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi, gay rights activists working for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), were beaten and tortured in police custody for six days last May. Since then, Zimbabwe's judicial system has acquitted them on all charges.
GALZ released a statement 1 April reporting three new cases of harassment by the state of members.
23 March police stormed the house of a GALZ member and conducted a warrantless search. They took the names of the five men present at the house, then took them to a police station, abused and ridiculed them and charged them with Disorderly Conduct, for which they were fined US$10 with an extra charge of US$30 to "entice the officer into receipting the fines."
25 March relatives of two women members took them to a police station on "allegations of practising homosexuality." They were separately interrogated and threatened with arrest if they denied the charges. Their mobile phones and people in the contacts list called about their relationship. Police verbally abused them and took photographs which they threatened to send to a local tabloid.
Also on 25 March another two women members were threatened by a local ward councilor who alleged that they were lesbians.
All three cases have been referred to the human rights organisation Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
A recent report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Comission (IGLHRC) 'Blackmail, extortion the experience of LGBT in sub-Saharan Africa' said that:
In Zimbabwe the readiness of certain police officers to profit from a case of extortion that comes to their attention means that victims are reluctant to report the offence, as to do so significantly increases the likelihood of their own arrest and may compound the pressure on them to hand over even more money. There are numerous instances where the police have become actively involved in the extortion, often seeking to displace the original extortionist or to obtain a share of the money being extorted.
In some cases, the police have actively sought out gay men and lesbians on their own initiative for the purpose of extortion. Extortion can also take place obliquely in instances where gay men or lesbians are the victims of theft or violence, and the perpetrator threatens to allege the commission of a homosexual offence if a complaint of theft or violence is made against him or her to the police. In numerous instances where the victims did make reports to the police, notwithstanding these threats, the gay or lesbian victims were arrested on the basis of the perpetrators’ allegations and held in custody despite a lack of evidence. Some attempts were dropped where lawyers intervened, and the presence of a lawyer experienced in dealing with blackmail appears to offer the best possibility of extrication for the victim, but few in Zimbabwe can afford access to legal representation. In 2003, an average of one case of extortion per month was brought to the attention of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and the police were actively involved in approximately half of these either in collaboration with the extortionist or on their own account.
Ellen Chademana recently told the story of those six frightening days in police custody.
It was a nightmare being in those filthy cells; with no toilets, no windows and no water to clean-up. There was urine all over the floors and so I wore plastic bags as shoes. There were about 15 women in the cell, most of them sex workers. The fact that I was on my monthly period in such an environment made it even worse.
The first night, some police officers came to our cell and rudely said: “Mahure simukai mumire, mumutsetse” (all prostitutes stand in a queue). I remained seated. this did not go down well with an officer who came to me and asked why I had not heeded his call. I told him that I was not a sex worker. He got angry and started shouting and threatening me. It was not until another officer came to my rescue that he left.
For six days and six nights I was in this hell. I suffered torture, harassment, verbal attacks and humiliation whilst in police custody. I felt dirty, victimised as I was stripped of all my dignity. Every night the police would call me into their office and question me about my love life and my partner; where she was and her name. They also insisted on having all the GALZ members’ names.