August 23, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department urges Zimbabwe to stop LGBT crackdown

The State Department on Thursday condemned Zimbabwe for its ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights activists following two police raids on an advocacy group’s offices earlier this month.

“We are deeply concerned when security forces become an instrument of political violence used against citizens exercising their democratic rights,” said spokesperson Victoria Nuland. “We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to end this pattern of abuse and to eradicate the culture of impunity that allows members of the security sector to continue to violate the rights of the Zimbabwean people.”

Gay News, Washington Blade, Zimbabwe

Photo courtesy of GALZ

Police on Aug. 11 arrested 44 members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe at the group’s offices in Harare, the country’s capital, after it unveiled a report that documented LGBT human rights abuses in the southern African nation. GALZ said on its website that riot police beat activists with batons and their fists before taking them into custody. Authorities subsequently released them without charge, but GALZ reported that police have since gone to 10 members’ homes — the group said police detained and interrogated three activists before releasing them.

“This is an outrageous breach of the rights of these activists, who are being harassed for their real or perceived sexual orientation,” said Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International. “The authorities must call a halt to the ongoing arbitrary detention and interrogation of GALZ members. The police action is a blatant violation of the basic human rights of these individuals. They have not committed any crime under Zimbabwean law.”

In a separate incident on Monday, GALZ said authorities confiscated computers and publications from the group’s Harare office. It noted that police seized the same equipment that they had returned after a May 2010 raid in which two activists were arrested.

GALZ co-chair Talent Nyathi told the Blade from Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, that his group welcomes the State Department’s statement. He urged American officials, however, to do more to stop the ongoing crackdown.

“They must not just talk,” he said. “They must also do something to stop these attacks on LGBT persons.”

These raids took place less than a month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored gay Ugandan activist Frank Mugisha and other human rights advocates in the East African country during an 11-day trip to the continent.

The ongoing crackdown also coincides with the process to rewrite Zimbabwe’s constitution that began in 2010. Zimbabweans are expected to vote on it and elect a new government sometime next year, but President Robert Mugabe has yet to announce when the election will take place.

Nyathi stressed that he feels authorities continue to target his group because LGBT rights have become politicized in Zimbabwe. He once again urged authorities to end their crackdown against GALZ and other advocacy organizations.

“We demand to be respected as [an] LGBT community,” said Nyathi. “We are also human beings who want equality and tolerance and it is the duty of the government not to harm its citizens but protect them all the times.”

 

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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