Many LGBTQ people have fled African states penalising sexual diversity. (Reuters: Jessica Rinaldi)
Tanzanian authorities are set to track down and arrest gay people — who face at least 30 years in prison — after the announcement of an anti-gay surveillance squad.
- Tanzanian law prohibits sex between men, with minimum 30-year jail penalty (no mention of women)
- 17-person squad to scour social media for information on same-sex couples
- Forced anal examinations still practised
Paul Makonda, governor of the country’s largest city Dar es Salaam, issued the directive in a news conference delivered on Monday.
The 17-member squad will seek out same-sex couples through social media, while the AFP quoted Mr Makonda as saying: “these homosexuals boast on social networks.”
“Give me their names,” he said.
“My ad-hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday.”
Tanzania uses colonial statutes to defend ‘moral values’
Male homosexuality has long been considered a moral taboo to be punished harshly.
Initially brought into being in the 19th century via German, then British colonial-era statutes, the country upholds provisions outlined in the Tanzania Penal Code of 1945, stating that any person who “has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” is liable for life imprisonment or a term for at least 30 years.
Tanzania is one of 37 Commonwealth member-states that continue to uphold colonial sodomy laws, while others, such as South Africa, India and Belize, have overturned them.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of the “deep regrets” over Britain’s anti-gay colonial legacy.
“Nobody should face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love,” Mrs May told the BBC.
“The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth nation wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”
The Tanzanian government has not previously been shaken by international condemnation.
Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba said in 2017 that “those who want to campaign for gay rights should find another country that allows those things”.
Forced anal exams still practised
This latest development comes amid a crackdown on Tanzanian LGBTQ communities and their supporters since the election of President John Magufuli in 2015, nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his strict policy agenda.
While Western partners have given Mr Magufuli a thumbs up for his corruption purges, his rigid policing of morality have caught other Western actors out, such as 2017’s arrest of human rights lawyers and activists accused of “promoting sexuality”.
In 2017, Tanzania shut down 40 HIV testing and treatment centres for vulnerable populations, including sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM).
Those seeking to access HIV/AIDS treatment were switched to public health facilities, where the risk of forced anal examinations is still present.
One Tanzanian victim told Buzzfeed News of a 2017 exam which had left him feeling as though he had “gone somewhere and gotten raped”.
In 2016, a swathe of international experts including doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists issued a statement that unequivocally found that anal examination cannot identify sexual practices, adding that forced examination produce a “a profile of psychiatric morbidity similar to rape or sexual harassment”.