Quest for justice: South Africans demand the release of 13 activists arrested in Tanzania for promoting homosexuality. Photo: Oupa Nkosi
More than a week after their arrest in Tanzania for “the promotion of homosexuality”, human rights lawyers have finally been granted bail — although they have yet to be officially charged.
Two of those arrested are South African, including Sibongile Ndashe, executive director of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (Isla).
The arrests took place in Dar es Salaam last Tuesday when the Tanzanian police raided a legal consultation meeting, convened by Isla and Community Health Services and Advocacy (Chesa).
Isla and Chesa said their meeting was “in order to get more instructions and evidence on a case that was to be before a court”. Human Rights Watch said the aim of the meeting was to “explore the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the government’s ban on drop-in centres serving key populations at risk of HIV, as well as the ban on importation of water-based lubricants, an essential HIV prevention tool.”
Isla and Chesa said the “mischaracterisation of a legal consultation — where lawyers and their clients were discussing a very specific case to be referred to the court — is unfortunate”.
The police had a copy of the concept note and the agenda of the consultation, they said.
In a statement Human Rights Watch added: “While it is true that ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ is criminalised in Tanzania under a colonial-era law, by no measure of the imagination is it a crime to hold a meeting.
“In fact, the meeting … was not even about homosexuality,” said Human Rights Watch.
A day after the arrest, Lazaro Mambosasa, Dar es Salaam’s head of police, said the “criminals” had violated Tanzanian law.
Bail was revoked last Friday, with the stated intention of “starting the investigation afresh”.
Numerous attempts at securing bail had also been denied, without any reasons being furnished.
One of the group’s lawyers, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity, confirmed that, although bail had finally been granted, no charge has been laid against the group.
“We are waiting for the director of public prosecutions to say whether they will be charged or deported,” the lawyer said.
He added that the group was “very happy, of course, but frustrated because they still do not know what the offence is they are being held for”.
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian