See updated article “Congo: LGBT activists arrested, beaten, released” (May 22, 2013)
May 14, 2013 — Human rights groups are seeking to verify reports that gay-rights activists in the troubled region of eastern Congo were arrested and tortured earlier this month. The following account comes from the non-governmental organization Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, which works for sexual health and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
LGBTI activist Joseph Saidi, 26, was arrested May 4 in Bukavu on charges of promoting homosexuality, then detained for four days, during which time he was tortured and beaten by police, then beaten and raped by fellow inmates while a police investigator looked on.
He was also accused of rape, but police did not pursue that charge for lack of evidence.
Saidi’s partner, Jeremiah Safari, pleaded with local authorities and international human rights activists, seeking Saidi’s release.
Saidi was freed May 8 after paying the arresting officer US$400, but police were offended by things that Safari said while seeking Saidi’s release. As a result, Safari himself was arrested on the same day that Saidi was freed.
Safari also was tortured and forced to undergo degrading treatment in prison.
He was released May 9 and is now being treated for injuries he suffered in prison.
The Democratic Republic of Congo does not have a law against homosexual activity, but police often behave as if such a law exists, activists say. In much of Congolese society, violence against LGBTI people is considered acceptable behavior, which police and government officials neither seek to prevent nor to punish.
Saidi, the founder and president of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, is currently undergoing medical treatment. He hopes to raise money to travel the 250 miles to Kigali, Rwanda, for a medical scan that his doctor says he needs.
Previously, in December 2012, police surrounded the office of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Saidi and Safari. At another time, unidentified armed men visited the homes of Rainbow Sunrise staff members, who since then have moved to undisclosed locations.
Rainbow Sunrise activists say they hope they can change the behavior and attitudes of police, the army and Congolese society in general by correcting misinformation and stereotypes that lead to violence against LGBTI people.
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