South Africans detained in Tanzania for 'promoting homosexuality'
The two have been kept in custody without charge, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Tanzania, Thami Mseleku, told the Cape Times on Sunday.
Acclaimed South African human rights lawyer Sibongile Ndashe, who is the director of the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa, as well as a second South African whose name has not yet been released, were among the group of 12 people arrested last week.
At the time Dar es Salaam police head Lazaro Mambosasa said the 12 were being questioned ahead of being sent to court. “We arrested the criminals at (the hotel) Peacock - they were promoting homosexuality. Two are South Africans, one Ugandan and nine Tanzanians. Tanzanian law forbids this act between people of the same sex,” Mambosasa reportedly said.
But yesterday Mseleku said the two South Africans had not been charged with any crimes yet.
The group was arrested while preparing for a case challenging the Tanzanian government’s decision to ban drop-in centres that served people particularly at risk of contracting HIV. This was according to the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel), which released a statement at the weekend.
Mseleku said: “They have not been charged with (anything)...(and) have not been told what the police are investigating. The matter that you saw in the media at the briefing by the chief of police here, saying that the people are arrested for promoting homosexuality - that is something police have said in public. But to the people they have not said that this is what we are investigating.”
Further, according to the officials, the reason the group was kept detained without charge on Friday was because the matter was being investigated at a higher level and there were concerns that the (detainees) might interfere with the investigation.
“There are two things about this group: They are clear that there is no case because they did not break any law (and) they are clear that in their view they were just there work-shopping as lawyers in order to prepare a particular case that they would like to actually level against the government, some kind of litigation on matters related to health care,” he said.
Nadel’s publicity secretary, Memory Sosibo, said the actions by the Tanzanian law- enforcement agencies were a clear attempt to instil fear among those who wished to legally challenge the actions of Tanzania’s government.
“Members of the public should feel free to consult with a legal professional in seeking legal recourse when they feel that any of their rights are violated. It would be a sad day for justice (should) lawyers (be) unable to defend (their) clients We condemn in the strongest possible form the actions of the Tanzanian law enforcement in this matter.”
Nadel has called for the Tanzanian government to allow the foreign nationals whose passports have been seized to leave the country.
Richard Lupembe, counsellor to the Tanzanian High Commission to South Africa, said: “The high commission does not have any information of an ongoing crackdown against gays in Tanzania. What we heard is they will send them to court.”