MEP demands EU action on Zimbabwean persecution of gay people

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By a Newsnet reporter

SNP MEP Alyn Smith has today pressed the EU to condemn an escalation of homophobic attacks in Zimbabwe.

In a letter to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, Mr Smith highlighted the harassment of a minority rights charity in the country by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), with repeated raids, beatings and arrests, imprisonment without charge, the breaching of citizens’ constitutional rights and the seizure of documents and computer equipment.

On August 20, 2012, Zimbabwean police officers entered and occupied the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) in the capital Harare for six hours, confiscating documents, advocacy materials, and computers. 

GALZ advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Zimbabwe.  Despite numerous requests from GALZ’s lawyers, who were quickly on the scene, the police refused to show a search warrant for over six hours.

The raid was the second on GALZ this month.  On August 11, police raided the group’s office without a warrant after the group published its 2011 LGBTI Rights Violations Report and a briefing on the draft constitution. On that occasion, police detained 44 GALZ members, assaulting them with batons, slaps, and punches.  A number required medical treatment for their injuries.   

Zimbabwe has an appalling record of human rights violations and officially sanctioned violence against its lesbian and gay minority.  In the past decade, Zimbabwean authorities have intensified attacks against the country’s lesbian and gay community including intimidation, arbitrary arrests, beatings, rape, and disappearances.

President Robert Mugabe, in office since 1980, has been at the forefront of anti-gay harassment, repeatedly using his office to insult and denigrate gay and lesbian Zimbabweans.  Mr Mugabe has stated his firm opposition to the inclusion of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual people in Zimbabwe’s new constitution, a position in which he is supported by the leaders of Zimbabwe’s main churches.

In 1995, Mr Mugabe attracted international condemnation after he called homosexuals “perverts” who were “worse than pigs or dogs” and said that gay people had no rights.  Mr Mugabe made the remarks after seeing a gay and lesbian group taking part in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which had human rights and justice as its theme.  Mr Mugabe threatened members of the group with jail and it was immediately banned from displaying its books.

The Zimbabwean government’s persecution of its lesbian and gay minority during the 1990s was so ferocious that even the country’s Catholic hierarchy sought to distance themselves from it.  In February 1996, the Zimbabwean Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a letter disassociating the Church from government attempts to “institute a ‘witch-hunt’ or hate campaign against persons with homosexual tendencies”.

The Zimbabwean government has not desisted from its persecution.  In 2006, new anti-gay laws were passed in the country, although sexual activity between two persons of the same gender was already illegal.  Under the new laws it became an imprisonable offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss. 

Sodomy was redefined by the new law as any “act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act”.  The police have used the new act to increase their harassment of the country’s gay and lesbian population.

Mr Smith said the Zimbabwean Government’s latest actions against GALZ violate Zimbabwe’s obligations under the African Charter of Human Rights.

The MEP, who is a Director of LGBT Youth Scotland, said:

“There is deeply troubling reports emerging from Zimbabwe and the European Union must be quick to step up the pressure on Mr Mugabe’s government to halt this persecution of LGBT people in the country.

“I have written to High Representative Ashton today urging her to come down harshly on Zimbabwe and to make it clear that these sort of government actions must be brought swiftly to an end.

“Robert Mugabe’s regime is continuing to be one of the most ghastly in the world, consistently betraying human rights and defying democracy, his government thugs seem to act with impunity and to indulge their own gross prejudices right across Zimbabwean society. Minorities need protection from oppressive governments and the EU has a moral duty to act.”