In an apparent attempt to boost the prospects for an anti-homosexuality law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two alleged lesbians were arrested May 27 in Kalamu, western Congo, human rights activists report.
The women, who run a bar in Kalamu, a section of Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, were initially arrested on charges of extending their bar’s terrace area into a public way. But they were then displayed on local television as alleged lesbians.
The television news report referred to a bill proposed late last year by member of parliament Steve Mbikayi, which would outlaw homosexual activity and impose prison sentences of three to five years and a fine of 1 million Congolese francs (about $1,000). If the bill is passed, a transgender person would face the same fine and a prison sentence of three to 12 years.
A similar bill was proposed in 2010 but did not pass.
This time, however, in the months since Mbikayi’s bill was proposed, police have been arresting many LGBT people and sending them to prison, a Congolese activist says.
Think Africa Press reported about the potential impact of the bill:
” ‘In the city [Kinshasa], we know gays and transvestites who are known and accepted by their communities. No-one would try to attack them,’ explains Okakessema Olivier Nyamana, a lawyer from an NGO that works with HIV-positive people. ‘To me, it seems like political opportunism.’
“This view was shared by Patrick Civava, a lawyer and employee at the Kinshasa University’s Centre for Human Rights, who sees Mbikayi’s bill as little more than attention seeking. ‘Seeing that homosexuality in Africa is entering the international debate, he simply wants to draw attention to himself,’ he says.
“With the next parliamentary session looming, however, others are more pessimistic. ‘My fear is that the bill will pass next week without anyone noticing,’ says Françoise Mukuku, the executive director of Si Jeunesse Savait, a feminist organisation that also advocates for the rights of LGBT people in the DRC.
“Meanwhile, Hilaire Mbwolie, director of a local organisation that conducts HIV/AIDS counselling and testing, voices his concern on the grounds of how the bill might impact on public health. ‘A law like that blocks the combat against HIV/AIDS. It will make it hard to conduct HIV testing,’ he says.”