Gays fear police blackmail after Zimbabwe allows all phones to be bugged

Zimbabwe LGBTs fear police will witch-hunt and blackmail them as new law allows monitoring of all private phone calls, text messages and internet use

Zimbabwe has given permission to security agencies to spy on every single citizen’s phone calls, text messages and internet use – and LGBT people fear they will be the worst hit.

Many gay, bi and trans Zimbabweans already live in fear of persecution by the authorities and are ostracized from their families. Same-sex activity is illegal and newly re-elected President Robert Mugabe has threatened further crackdowns.

Now Zimbabwe’s government has said police and security agencies no longer need a justifiable reason to monitor phones or private internet use.

Telecommunications companies are required to provide a database of all users which the authorities can access as they want, under the new law which came into force yesterday (1 October).

The legislation has sparked outcry for many Zimbabweans with human rights defenders and legal experts saying it violates constitutional rights to privacy.

But lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens say it gives carte blanche to the authorities to harass, intimidate, arrest and blackmail them, using evidence from the intercepted communications.

One lesbian, FT, from the capital Harare, told Gay Star News: ‘This law will result in us being victimized by authorities. Blackmail will be on the increase.

‘We have had cases of police blackmailing individuals after discovering their sexual orientation. Organizations working on human rights issues have been targeted and LGBTI activists are not an exception.’

TN, an LGBTI activist from Bulawayo has already faced corruption: ‘I remember once I was arrested and police were investigating my blackmailer’s claims that I was making sexual advances at him.

‘In the end I was a victim of both the police and my blackmailer, now I can imagine what the situation will be like for many in the LGBTI community.’

And another campaigner said: ‘As people working on issues considered “taboo or controversial”, it’s an open secret that we are a target. We have always been under surveillance, but just weren’t sure how much about our work is known.

‘We will have an upsurge in cases of organizations, leaders and individuals facing unscrupulous charges.

‘This law is blatant excuse by our leadership to impinge on our rights. It will be a problem to convince members their information is safe, especially knowing the police are interested in knowing who our members are.’

The new law compels companies to disclose subscriber data upon receiving a ‘written request signed by a law enforcement agent who is not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of police or a co-ordinate rank in any other law enforcement agency’.

Telecommunications companies will no longer be allowed to activate any SIM card that is not fully registered, the law says. Providing incorrect information upon registering a SIM card, like a false residential address, is now an offence.

Although the regulations say ‘any person who is aggrieved by any unlawful use of his personal data shall have the right to seek legal redress’, others expressed doubt.

Tendai B from Harare told us: ‘Once police know your secret, you either pay them to protect yourself or they will divulge your information to sensationalist papers which are common nowadays.

‘As a gay man I feel I will have no protection by the law even if I wanted redress.’

by Miles Rutendo Tanhira
Source – Gay Star News