December 24, 2014 at 1:39 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Attack at Zimbabwe LGBT party leaves dozens injured

Chester Samba, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, GALZ, gay news, Washington Blade

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe Director Chester Samba (Photo courtesy of Chester Samba)

A Zimbabwean LGBT rights organization claims more than 30 people were injured when a group of men attacked them at their end-of-the-year party on Dec. 19.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe in a press release said three vehicles at around 11:20 p.m. “forced their way” into a club near its office where the event was taking place and demanded that security personnel allow them to attend.

The group notes a man in one of the vehicles threatened the guards with a pistol after they refused to allow him inside the venue. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said between 12 and 15 men proceeded to enter the club and began punching those inside.

The group said the assailants attacked people with logs, iron bars and empty beer bottles. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe in their press release further noted the men also demanded money and electronics from its members as they attacked them.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said more than 35 people were injured. The men also attacked five of the organization’s staffers and a female cashier who was working the bar during the party.

“Members sought refuge in a nearby bush, with some seeking refuge in private homes by way of jumping over fences and walls,” said Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe in a second press release on Dec. 21.

Zimbabwe president: Gays have no rights

Activists, the Obama administration and others in recent years have sharply criticized Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe, the country’s long-time president, over its LGBT rights record.

Mugabe in May described homosexuality as “inhuman” and said gays “have no human rights.” He told supporters during a July 2013 rally ahead of his re-election that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children.

Authorities have also frequently targeted members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

Police in August 2012 arrested more than 40 members of the organization inside their office in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe claimed that authorities a few days earlier confiscated computers and pamphlets.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said five men with hammers “violently” entered their offices in June 2013 and disrupted a meeting that was taking place. Authorities arrested the alleged perpetrators, but prosecutors have yet to charge them in connection with the incident.

“Whilst the existence of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe cannot be disputed anymore, thanks largely to the powerful help of President Mugabe’s rhetoric, this has created a climate and culture of impunity and lawlessness as evidenced by the actions of these thuggish men to hunt down LGBTI people in our communities, vicinities and homes to inflict harm,” said Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe in their Dec. 21 press release.

The organization said it has “reason to believe” club patrons who are affiliated with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party may have asked the men to attack its members because the venue was closed for their event. Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe said it heard reports that some of those who took part in the incident suggested the Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition party, hosted the party.

“We are deeply troubled by reports of brutality against LGBT community members at a private end-of-year party,” said Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the State Department. “We urge the government of Zimbabwe and police authorities to investigate the reports thoroughly and to respond appropriately.”

Chester Samba, director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that those who were attacked are still filing police reports.

“We need to give the police time to investigate,” said Samba.

Gavin Reid of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which works with Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, urged Zimbabwean officials to investigate the attack and prosecute those who committed it.

“It’s the duty of the Zimbabwean government to protect and promote the rights of all its citizens and to ensure that all Zimbabweans are able to enjoy their full constitutional rights including the right to life, to personal security, to freedom of assembly and association and to freedom from torture,” said Reid.

Clay agreed.

“We urge the government of Zimbabwe and police authorities to investigate the reports thoroughly and to respond appropriately,” he told the Blade. “We encourage respect for rule of law and call on the government of Zimbabwe to uphold its international obligations to protect the human rights of all Zimbabweans.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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