Second of four articles about the treatment of LGBTIs in Zimbabwe, this one describing 18 incidents of violence, harassment and extortion by police and others.
LGBTI activists in Zimbabwe say they have documented more than 30 cases of people who were arrested or detained last year because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Often police arrest or detain individuals without charge or on charges related to ambiguous or inapplicable criminal laws, according to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, or GALZ.
In its newly released “Violations Report” for last year, GALZ cited these 18 incidents involving lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender or intersex people and their supporters:
In Bulawayo, three police details illegally entered and searched the home of Joseph, a known member of GALZ, ostensibly looking for “pornographic materials.” Joseph and his friend were arrested, handcuffed, and detained overnight without being informed of any charges brought against them. Joseph and his friend were released without charge.
In Harare, police officers stormed the apartment of Tawanda, a member of GALZ, and searched the premises without a search warrant. The police detained Tawanda and 4 male friends who were present at the time on charges of Disorderly Conduct, and verbally ridiculed and abused the men using homophobic slurs, saying, for example, “Ngochani” (sissy) and “You want to be a woman.” Tawanda and his friends were each fined US$10, and the police agent taking the payment demanded another US$30
to accept their payment and let them go. When Tawanda and his friends left Harare Central Police Station, some officers threatened to return every day and every night to Tawanda’s apartment to “check up on them.”
In several cases, the report says, police arrested people for being gay or lesbian, despite that fact that only homosexual activities, not homosexuality itself, is not a crime under Zimbabwean law:
In Southerton, for example, Chipo and Grace were detained by the police on allegations of “being lesbian.” Two family members had dragged Chipo and Grace to the police station and demanded that they be arrested for their sexual orientation. The women were detained by the police for three hours, during which time they were repeatedly verbally abused using homophobic and sexist slurs. Several police officers also took photos of the women and threatened to send the photos to the national paper for publication. Such threats are not idle in a country where many are beaten up and killed for being gay or lesbian.
Detainees are often assaulted verbally, physically, and or sexually assaulted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, the report says:
Themba, for example, was picked up by the police while grocery shopping with a friend, oncharges of “being gay.” Themba and his friend were taken to Waterfalls police station where they were forced to undress and then beaten, in order to get them to confess to being gay. Themba was also sexually assaulted with a police baton, and police officers told him they would shove him into a metal coffin, whether he was dead or alive, and let him die there.
In another case, Golden told GALZ that his legs were restrained with heavy leg irons while in detention, and that he was forced to undergo a medical examination to determine whether he had had anal sex. He was also forced to take unknown medication, allegedly to “cure infections contracted during anal intercourse.”
Tafara reported to GALZ that four individuals blackmailed him at his home in Harare Central, two of whom claiming they were police officers, and the other two to be from the President’s office. The four extortionists told Tafara he was being charged with having had anal sex with another man and with making derogatory remarks about the president. They demanded US$500 to leave Tafara’s residence.
In another case, Kudzai was picked up by two police officers in Harare Central, allegedly on charges of having had sex with another man. On the way to the police station, the police officers demanded US$100 from Kudzai, and released him without charge when he gave them the money.
Extortion is not limited to police. In some cases, the report said, extortionists establish a short sexual relationship with a victim in order to gather proof they will use for blackmail:
Charles told GALZ that an individual who later started demanding money and other payment for not revealing Charles’ sexual orientation publicly had aggressively propositioned him. The extortionist started showing up daily at Charles’ workplace, every time demanding more cash, clothing, or other payment. After one month of threats, Charles finally saw no other solution than to move away from his hometown, becoming an internally displaced person because of the abuse.
Suspected LGBTIs are also subject to violence and extortion by family, neighbors, and other community members, the report said:
Alex told GALZ he was forced to leave home by his stepmother, who threatened him with reporting his sexuality to the police even after she had compelled him to deny that he was gay in front of several members of his community. After a short stint living with his sister, Alex was forced to leave again because the sister’s neighbours reported to her that he was gay. As a result Alex became homeless and ended up having to leave the country. Alex is currently in refuge in Mozambique.
Extortion often depends on complaints about to police about suspected LGBTIs, the report said:
In one case, the extortionist filed a police report before he started demanding money. … Tadiwa, the victim of this extortion scheme, was detained for three days on charges of having sexually propositioned a person. The extortionist demanded US$825 from Tadiwa in order to drop the charges.
State authorities have an obligation to address violence and extortion, both to investigate and punish those who attack others, but also to prevent abuse in the first place. In Zimbabwe, the police routinely turns a blind eye to the abuse and extortion of LGBTI individuals, thus contributing to the overwhelming
sense of impunity.
“Many LGBTI individuals live in fear of violence and abuse, either because
they have witnessed abuse of others, or because they see violent homophobic
slurs in the media or indeed media accounts of homophobic violence,” the report said:
One lesbian couple told GALZ they live in fear of being attacked after one of them was recognised by a community member at a screening of “Hungochani” (a documentary film about homosexuality in Zimbabwe). After that time, the couple started noticing individuals near their home that they thought seemed suspicious and sought protection and relocation in order to stay safe.
The problems are exacerbated by politicians’ “violent homophobic language,” the report said:
Tafadzwa and Charlene, a lesbian couple has reported that they often are abused and attacked by political party youth groups whenever there are rallies or meetings at the shops close to their home. On one occasion, members of ZANU PF youth forced Charlene to kneel and chant party slogans. Later in 2011, Tafadzwa was attacked by a man from her community, who reportedly physically attacks anyone he believes to be gay. The man hit Tafadzwa with a beer bottle in her head and then proceeded to beat her up while an accomplice held her down. Tafadzwa reported the attack to the police, but to her knowledge no investigations were ever initiated. GALZ has also tried to get information from the police on this case, but no one has responded to these inquiries.
GALZ cited several cases of harassment of LGBTI and human-rights activists by police and others:
In early 2011, GALZ received a telephone tip-off about planned protests to be held outside GALZ offices and properties. On previous occasions, such protests have become violent and riotous, and on several occasions GALZ staff members have received threats of physical attacks and have repeatedly been verbally abused through the office telephone lines.
On 8 December 2011, a group of police officers repeatedly tried to gain access to GALZ offices in Bulawayo as well as to the offices of the Sexual Rights Centre without a search warrant or any explicit reasoning.
The police also disrupted a workshop organised by GALZ in Bulawayo on 17 December 2011 and only left the premises after interventions from Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights.
In October 2011, three lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were ambushed by members of ZANU PF youth as they left a courtroom after having represented two individuals charged with sodomy. The youth members called the three lawyers “unpatriotic” for providing legal counsel
to gay men after President Mugabe had denounced homosexuality as unnatural and wrong. The youth members also threatened the lawyers with physical violence and blocked the access to their car.
Chipo and Grace, the two women who were detained in Southerton on charges of “being lesbian,” had their cell phones seized during their time at the police station, and police officers called individuals on their contact lists to ascertain the level of the women’s involvement with GALZ and to find out
who else were members of the organisation.
Themba, who suffered sexual, verbal, and physical abuse while in police custody in Waterfalls, was forced to report the name of a local staff member of GALZ and police officers further forced him to accompany them to the home of this staff member. The staff member was subsequently detained on charges of “promoting homosexuality,” though no such provision exists in law. The police demanded US$300 to release him.
The GALZ report also maintains that the country’s laws against consensual adult same-sex activities are a human rights violation.
- Damning LGBT report on Zimbabwe, plus a call for change (76crimes.com)
- Zimbabwe police raid office, arrest 44 gay activists (76crimes.com)