Rights groups condemn rise of homophobia in Tanzania

Dar es Salaam Gov. Paul Makonda

GIN – Dar es Salaam’s governor, Paul Makonda, has begun urging citizens to report homosexuals for round-ups, sending hundreds of LGBTQ activists into hiding to avoid arrest.

“If you know any gays … report them to me,” Makonda told reporters, according to CNN.

In an interview posted on YouTube, Makonda said he had already received more than 5,700 messages from the public, including more than 100 names. A conviction for having “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” can lead to up to 30 years in jail in Tanzania.

The latest attacks are an ugly reprise to similar statements by President John Magufuli, once seen as a decisive figure determined to run a frugal government, stamp out corruption and deliver better services. But once in power, “he turned from cracking down on corrupt government officials to evoking colonial laws in order to police women’s bodies, reinforce discrimination against girls and now, in this latest move, to hunt down homosexuals,” wrote Patience Akumu, an African feminist and feature writer for the Kampala Observer in Uganda.

Gay people face persecution across much of Africa with human rights groups often reluctant to speak publicly in defense of gay rights. But in the shadow of the “MeToo” movement, homophobia is facing a push-back – at least from some.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, condemned Makonda’s round-up as “a witch-hunt (which) could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence … against those perceived to be LGBT(Q)”.

“The government has a duty to protect everyone in Tanzania and uphold their human rights without discrimination,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty’s East Africa regional director in a statement. “They must not initiate programs or use government agencies to rob LGBTI people of their rights.”

Even the Tanzanian foreign ministry has distanced itself from the governor’s harsh rhetoric, saying Makonda’s campaign represents his own views and not the official government position.

American citizen travelers have been warned of the planned crackdown and were urged to review social media profiles for possibly illegal content.

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