Anti-gay crackdown 'not reflective of Tanzania's official stance', says govt

2018-11-05 13:31
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The Tanzanian government has distanced itself from the local administrator who called for a crackdown on gay people in Dar es Salaam.

Last week on Monday, Dar es Salaam governor Paul Makonda launched an anti-gay crackdown, threatening to arrest people suspected of being homosexuals.

Makonda urged citizens to start reporting homosexuals for round-ups set to begin this week in the east Africa country, where anti-gay rhetoric has soared in recent years.

Makonda also called on citizens to report suspected gay people to him, adding that a 17-member surveillance squad had been formed to investigate people and scour their social media profiles.

Makonda, a fervent Christian and loyal ally of President John Magufuli, said although he expected criticism from outsiders for his hardline stance, he preferred "to anger those countries than to anger God," AFP reported.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Co-operation, however, published a statement on its website on Sunday, stating that Makonda's call was his own opinion and not reflective of the country's official stance on the matter.

The statement said that the ministry would "continue to respect all international agreements on human rights that have been signed and ratified".

Political rhetoric against homosexuality

"The United Republic of Tanzania continues and will continue to respect and protect such rights as contained in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania," the statement said.

Meanwhile, rights groups have slammed the proposed persecution of homosexual people and the government’s failure to step in after Makonda’s call to action.

"The Tanzanian government is willing to risk its relationships with other countries to forge ahead with its persecution of homosexual people," Neela Ghoshal, a senior LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told News24.

Ghoshal said that the persecution of homosexual people in Tanzania was the worst seen yet, while neighbours like Kenya were swinging in the opposite direction towards more tolerance.

Anti-homosexual sentiment was rife in Tanzania, forcing most gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities to live in secrecy.

Political rhetoric against homosexuality has increased since the election of President John Magufuli in 2015, according to AFP.

Last year the president said everybody should condemn homosexuality, "even cows", and soon after, his government threatened to arrest or deport gay rights activists.

Three South Africans were expelled from the country last year for allegedly advocating for same-sex marriage.

Social media profiles and internet footprints

Ghoshal said while no reports of foreigners or tourists being targeted had been received of late, the poor and working classes would be most affected as they had far less privacy than the rich and middle class.

"One way (for politicians) to gain power is to create a common enemy, in this case gay people. The message is 'support me and I will protect you from them'," she said. 

She said that in Uganda, where the government-sanctioned harassment of gay people was rife, when citizens complained about corruption or lack of service delivery, the gay issue would suddenly be hauled out again by politicians to distract them from the real issues.

Homosexuality was punishable in Tanzania by a prison sentence of 30 years to life, one of the harshest punishments in the world for same-sex intimacy, according to Human Rights Watch.

A report by The Guardian said that the US had since issued a warning to its citizens in Tanzania to be cautious following the announcement of the anti-gay crackdown.

In an alert on its website late on Saturday, the US embassy in Tanzania advised Americans to review their social media profiles and internet footprints.

"Remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity," it said. 

Read more on:    john magufuli  |  tanzania  |  gay rights  |  east africa

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