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Congo: LGBT activists arrested, beaten, released (update)

[This article in French: Congo: 2 militants LGBT arrêtés, battus, libérés]

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo shows Bukavu in the far east, near the borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo shows Bukavu in the far east, near the borders Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Earlier this month, police in the Democratic Republic of Congo arrested two members of 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, DRC. In following up on the account of the incidents, human rights activists with connections to Bukavu were told that the arrests occurred, though some of the specifics remained unclear, including the exact charges and the men’s treatment in custody.

The following account comes from Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, with information from another source in brackets:

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 colleague, Jeremie 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 May 9. [Reportedly, the charge may have been obstructing police activity.]

Safari also was tortured and forced to undergo degrading treatment in prison.
He was released May 10 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, are Safari are currently undergoing medical treatment. Saidi 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.

This is an update of a preliminary report published May 14, 2013.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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