The Zimbabwean authorities must immediately halt police harassment and intimidation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, Amnesty International said today.
Since Thursday, police have reportedly detained and interrogated at least 10 members of the organization, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), before releasing them. GALZ activists believe the present police operation is aimed at tracking down 44 of their members who had previously been arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained on 11 August as they took part in a peaceful gathering at the NGO’s offices in the capital, Harare.
“This is an outrageous breach of the rights of these activists, who are being harassed for their real or perceived sexual orientation,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Africa director.
“The authorities must call a halt to the ongoing arbitrary detention and interrogation of GALZ members. The police action is a blatant violation of the basic human rights of these individuals. They have not committed any crime under Zimbabwean law.”
At the time of the 11 August arrests, the GALZ activists had not committed any offence – they were simply exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. These rights are fully recognized in Zimbabwe’s current constitution and in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international human rights treaties binding Zimbabwe.
The latest police action is likely to force LGBTI people in Zimbabwe to go into hiding, as they fear arrest and exposure in a context where there is widespread discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Such a development could seriously compromise their human rights, including by severely limiting their access to healthcare and other services, and forcing them to live away from their families and social support systems.
According to information received by Amnesty International, the individuals were initially arrested while attending the launch of a report by the organization and a briefing on the Second Draft Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Four police officers attempted to gain entry to the offices, before being joined by approximately 15 riot police officers, who forcibly entered and proceeded to attack GALZ members with batons and fists.
Thirty-one men and 13 women were detained overnight in Harare Central police station without charge, and were released the following morning.
Some of the activists who were detained required medical treatment as a result of being beaten by the police.
“As well as significantly hampering the work of human rights defenders, these acts of harassment and intimidation by police contribute to a climate of discrimination, harassment and fear for individuals who may be targeted for violence on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Audrey Gaughran.