Zimbabwe: Police Harassment of LGBT NGOs and Activists Must Stop

(New York) — In the latest of what has become an alarming pattern of police harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights defenders, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) have charged the co-chairperson of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Martha Tholanah, with running an “unregistered” organization. On August 23, detectives at the Law and Order Section at Harare Central Police Station charged Tholanah with violating Section 6 (iii) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act. The charge comes after almost 3 weeks of ongoing targeting of the LGBT community that began when police raided the GALZ office and arrested 44 people.

(For a timeline of recent events, see below.)

“We are outraged by the escalating harassment of LGBT activists by state officials in Zimbabwe,” said Damian Ugwu, Regional Program Coordinator for Africa at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). “GALZ must be permitted to continue its vital work for the human rights of all Zimbabweans, and the police must stop targeting members of the LGBT community for harassment and arrest.”

Timeline of Events

  • • On August 11, GALZ reported that 44 of its members were arrested during the launch of a human rights report, GALZ LGBTI Rights Violation Report 2011,” at its office in Harare. Four ZRP officers disrupted the report launch and soon after were joined by 15-armed members of the riot police squad. Police arrested 44 people. GALZ noted police use of force during the raid, including destroying the electrical fence around the building housing its office, hitting some of those assembled with batons, and causing at least one activist to collapse. All of the people arrested were released in the early morning of August 12 without charge.
  • • GALZ reported on August 17 that as of the previous evening police officers had visited the homes of 10 of its members who had been arrested during the report launch, and 3 others were summoned to police stations in their neighborhoods. The purpose of these visits and summons is unclear.
  • • On August 20, according to GALZ, members of the ZRP arrived at GALZ headquarters and demanded entry. They confiscated the organization’s computers and publications.
  • • On August 23, ZRP charged Martha Tholana, co-chairperson of GALZ, with running an “unregistered” organization, according to GALZ.

LGBT Zimbabweans have been the targets of arrest and intimidation by law enforcement agents in the past, often with the support of government officials. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has made derogatory statements about LGBT people, including at one time describing them as “worse than dogs and pigs.”
For more information about the well-being of LGBT Zimbabweans today, see:
• GALZ LGBTI Rights Violations Report 2011: The report documents police abuse, arbitrary detention, extortion, homophobia in the media and harassment of LGBT human rights defenders. It also provides specific recommendations to the Government of Zimbabwe to address these violations. IGLHRC is proud to have supported the production of this report.
• Report on Discrimination against Women in Zimbabwe based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: In January, IGLHRC partnered with GALZ on the production of a shadow report on discrimination against women based on sexual orientation and gender identity and supported 2 activists from GALZ to present their report at the United Nations.

For more information, contact:
Damian Ugwu, Program Coordinator for Africa, IGLHRC: +1-212-430-6015 or dugwu@iglhrc.org
Chesterfield Samba, GALZ: + 263 772 367 391
Patience Mandishona, GALZ: + 263 772 444 584