The Right2Know Campaign is outraged to learn about the unlawful arrest of 12 Human Rights activists on 17 October in Tanzania while attending a workshop in the capital city, Dar es Salaam. The human rights activists and lawyers include two South Africans who were preparing to launch a court challenge to that government’s ban on drop-in centres serving key populations at risk of HIV. One of the South Africans arrested is Executive Director of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), Sibongile Ndashe.
Arrested allegedly for “promoting homosexuality” the group was immediately released on bail; while it is true that “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is a crime under an outdated colonial-era law, under no law in Tanzania is it illegal or a crime merely to hold a meeting. On October 20, bail was inexplicably revoked and the group is now back in custody – on unknown charges. This is in sharp contrast to the country’s Criminal Procedure Act which prohibits the arrest of anyone for no charge and also prohibits holding anyone in custody for longer than 24 hours without bail or being brought before a court.
The arbitrary arrest of the 12 human rights defenders is a sign of the Tanzanian government’s increasing lack of tolerance for freedom of assembly and freedom of expression both on the mainland and on Zanzibar. The recent arrests follow a disturbing trend in which several dozen people have been arrested since December 2016 for “homosexuality” or “promoting homosexuality”. In most of these cases there has in fact been very little evidence to suggest that those detained have engaged in same-sex activity.
The reality is that the 12 human rights defenders are NOT being held for promoting homosexuality, but rather for seeking to challenge reactionary government policies and attitudes that put many innocent people at risk and could cost many HIV-positive people their lives.
We call on the Tanzanian government to release these activists immediately and to drop any politically motivated charges.
We also call on the South African government to intervene urgently to secure the release of our comrades and compatriots to make sure that they do not spend another night in jail for fighting for what is right.
Finally, we urge President Magafuli and the Tanzanian government not to reverse the extraordinary gains it has made over the past decade to cut the HIV infection rate by more than 30% and the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs to nearly half of the 1.4 million infected adults. This current crackdown on the fundamental rights of an LGBTI minority at risk and of the core civil political rights of all citizens puts everyone at jeopardy. It is not too late for Tanzania to once again be a model in the region in terms of how to respond to key populations. This is not that way.