Ten men were arrested in Tanzania on Saturday after allegedly hosting a same-sex marriage, Amnesty International reports. The men were detained at Chackwa police station, where authorities will subject them to forced anal examinations on Friday, according to the Guardian.
Six other attendees of the wedding fled the scene, fearing persecution and imprisonment. Police were tipped off about the ceremony and said they found men sitting in twos on the scene, which was enough to warrant arrest, Amnesty International reports.
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“It is mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes. “The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court, despite arresting them three days ago.”
This arrest comes after Paul Makonda, governor of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, said he was forming a hunting team to track down and apprehend gay people. Makonda, who serves in Tanzania’s largest city, encouraged citizens to report people they knew or perceived to be gay. Just the next day, he said he received over 5,000 reports with 100 names of LGBTQ civilians, according to CNN.
“This could turn into a witch hunt and could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment, and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a statement.
The Tanzanian government distanced itself from Makonda’s comments by saying they are “only his opinion and not reflective of the country’s official stance.” The government also said it would “continue to respect all international agreements on human rights that have been signed and ratified.”
Some critics argue that the administration’s response to Makonda was too late and that it did not adequately condemn the governor’s statements. Despite where the government stands on the issue, arrests are still occurring.
“This is a shocking blow following the Tanzanian government’s assurance that no one would be targeted and arrested because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity,” Magango said. “We now fear these men may be subjected to forced anal examination, the government’s method of choice for 'proving' same-sex sexual activity among men.”
Because of this, the European Union recalled its Tanzanian ambassador because of what it describes as “the deterioration of human rights and rule of law." The US Embassy also warned Americans and travelers about Makonda’s alleged crackdown and encouraged visitors to be mindful of Tanzania’s laws.
In Tanzania, LGBTQ people face up to a 30-year jail sentence simply for being themselves. Tanzania is one of 37 previously colonized countries that still uphold colonial-era sodomy laws.
Homophobia and prejudice are extremely prevalent in the area. A 2007 Pew study reported that 95% of Tanzanians believe homosexuality should be rejected, the highest rate of the forty-five countries surveyed.
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Last year, Tanzania shut down 40 HIV testing and treatment centers that were meant to help gay men and sex workers. Their patients then turned to public health facilities where forced anal examinations often occur.
In 2017, a team of human rights lawyers and activists were detained by the police for "promoting" homosexuality. This intimidated lawyers from taking LGBTQ cases, leaving people without proper representation in court.
The year before that, the Tanzanian government banned HIV/AIDS outreach programs that were intended to help gay men. It shut down US-funded programs that provided medical care, condoms, and HIV testing for the LGBTQ community. Later, private HIV clinics were forced to close nationwide.
In 2016, the government banned lubricant, because it believed it promoted homosexuality and that banning it could help to stop the spread of HIV.
LGBTQ activists and residents are in constant danger of being violently attacked by police and members of their community, which has happened in the past. As a result, people are being forced to flee Tanzania or hide within their homes.
“People are afraid for their lives. People are afraid for their safety. They are hiding. Some of them have moved into some of their own communities or have gone into hiding in other places. They are quite apprehensive about the situation,” Magango told Voice of America. “It is a total state of fear.”