Protests surge as Tanzania jails anti-HIV lawyers; no charges

The mother of arrested human rights lawyer Sibongile Ndashe protests at the Tanzanian High Commission in South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
The mother of arrested human rights lawyer Sibongile Ndashe protests at the Tanzanian High Commission in South Africa. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Tanzania is facing widespread protests over the arrest and ongoing detention of a dozen lawyers and activists supporting health care services for HIV-positive Tanzanians. They have been charged with no crime, but are accused of “promoting homosexuality” when they met to discuss a planned lawsuit seeking to restore anti-AIDS programs for LGBTI people.

As part of an ongoing anti-homosexuality crackdown, Tanzanian police on Oct. 17 arrested 12 or 13 people in the midst of consultations about the lawsuit. Those arrested included Sibongile Ndashe, executive director of  South Africa-based Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), and John Kashiha, director of Tanzania-based Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA).

All 12 (according to police) or 13 (according to activists) were granted bail, but it was revoked without explanation on Oct. 20 and the group has been detained without charges ever since. Police stated that they were starting a new investigation.

Click the image to sign the petition. As of Oct. 25, it had 700 signatures out of a goal of 800.
Click the image to sign the petition. As of Oct. 25, the petition had 700 signatures out of a goal of 800.

Protests have included:

This is the excerpt from the essay “In the name of ujamaa, let the 13 human rights activists return to their families,”  written by Allan Maleche, executive director of the Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN):

In the name of ujamaa, let the 13 human rights activists return to their families

Allan Maleche (Photo courtesy of
Allan Maleche (Photo courtesy of

… The political concept of ujamaa – coined by Tanzania’s first President Julius Nyerere – encapsulates social, economic and moral ideals of self-reliance that resonate today with President Magufuli and millions of people in Tanzania, and across Africa. The reform agenda embraced by President Magufuli to rid his country of corruption and cronyism and to obtain a fairer deal for Tanzania’s natural resources is legitimate and laudable.

However, the flip side to these reform efforts has been a deteriorating human rights situation, marked by a crackdown on political and social dissent. Newspapers have been closed down, opposition leaders harassed and physically attacked, and lawyers intimidated. Easy scapegoats have been found in LGBT people, sex workers and people who use drugs. Through a combination of moralist discourse and politically expedient “Africanism”, these populations have become the focus of intense harassment and negative media campaign instigated or supported by government officials.

Ultimately, such targeting of a segment of Tanzania’s population violates the core value of Nyerere’s vision of ujaama that “people care for each other’s welfare”.

Sibongile, her two colleagues and their clients – all currently in detention – cared for the welfare and health of others. They wanted to bring their concerns and those of the people they care about to the courts of Tanzania for consideration and for a fair determination. In doing so, they were not promoting homosexuality. They were only challenging the blanket denial of health services and commodities that is contrary to the right to health, and that puts people at increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, whether they are men or women, gay or straight.

The place of these clients and lawyers is not in jail, but with their families and communities. By keeping them in detention, President Magufuli’s administration is not advancing ujaama: rather, it is breaking familyhood.

This is an excerpt from the Pan African Lawyers’ Union letter asking lawyers in Tanzania to intervene:

Re: Arrest and incarceration, without charges proffered or offences disclosed, of 12 lawyers and human rights activists

On the said Friday 20th October 2017, they were rearrested and have been held at the Police Station since then, with the following unfortunate conditions: –

1.      The Police have not told them on what offence they have been held or the reasons for their continued incarceration

2.      They have not been charged in a Court of law till the moment of writing this email

3.      They have been denied Police Bail till the moment of writing this email

There is no criminal offence of ‘promoting homosexuality.’ More importantly, we see no plausible way of ascribing the advocate-client consultation that was taking place, or even a workshop on LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) issues, as crimes under the said law.

We have been informed that the South African High Commission in Dar es Salaam has tried to intervene in the matter, but without success.

We are aware that their lawyers on record, Messrs Benedict Ishabakaki and Jebra Kambole (copied in this email) have tried without success to secure Police Bail from the relevant authorities. They have also filed a Habeas Corpus Application in the High Court at Dar es Salaam today, but were unable to secure audience before a Judge.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) has contacted PALU and fervently requested us to make all relevant interventions in this matter, especially in respect of their two members aforementioned.

We now seek the intervention of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS). We request that you consider the following, although we do not limit you in terms of any interventions that you may consider appropriate in the circumstances: –

1.      Intervene directly with the Honourable Attorney General to secure the early unconditional release of the 12 persons or that they are promptly brought to a court of law and charged with offences known to the laws of the United Republic of Tanzania;

2.      Intervene directly with the Inspector General of Police, or his officers, to ensure the early release of the 12 persons, either unconditionally or on Police Bail;

3.      Assist the Counsel on record to obtain audience on the Habeas Corpus Application in the High Court at Dar es Salaam;

4.      Appoint Counsel, preferably acting pro bono, to hold a Watching Brief for the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) in any court proceedings arising from this matter, including, but not limited to, the Habeas Corpus Application;

5.      Take any other measures that you deem fit and appropriate in the circumstances.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


Leave a Reply
  1. Dear Colin

    Thank you for 76 Crimes’s continuing and comprehensive covering of this hot issue in Tanzania.

    To add to the picture, the Global Fund Observer Newsletter published a piece on Tanzania a couple of days ago.

    It includes some more detail on how the TZ Government is suspending grants for HIV services for gay men/MSM in Tanzania – even though the funds are being provided by the Global Fund and by US PEPFAR.

    Here is a link for the current article:

    and here is a link for an earlier piece in the GFO Newsletter soon after these programs were first suspended in March this year:

    Global Fund-supported programs suspended amid Tanzanian … Global Fund-supported programs suspended amid Tanzanian government crackdown on LGBT community

    It appears the actions of the Tanzanian Government – whether intentionally or unintentionally – will in effect work to curtail HIV services to gay men/MSM and to make it difficult for those with HIV infection to access life-saving treatment.

    The MSMGF is encouraging advocates around the world to take up the Call To Action issued by CHESA and ISLA, including writing to Tanzanian embassies and consulates worldwide.


    Don Baxter

    Board Chair, Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF)

    37 Taylor St., Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010, Australia

    email: [email protected]

    mobile: +61-419-223-560


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