Police in Tanzania have arrested 10 men on suspicion of being gay, amid a crackdown announced by the governor of Dar es Salaam, the nation’s largest city.
However, the arrests took place not in Dar es Salaam but at Pongwe Beach on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, Amnesty International reports in a press release. The men were arrested Saturday night at a party after police received a tip that a same-sex wedding was taking place.
It’s not clear if there was a wedding, but police arrested the men because they were sitting “two by two,” according to Amnesty International. They are being held in a police station on the island of Unguja but have not been formally charged.
“It is mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions,” Seif Magango, the organization’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes, said in the press release. “The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court, despite arresting them three days ago.”
The arrests come despite assurances from Tanzania’s national government that it did not support the antigay witch hunt announced last week by Gov. Paul Makonda of Dar es Salaam, even though President John Magufuli and his administration have a history of homophobic statements and actions. Makonda, for his part, has appointed a committee to seek out LGBTQ people on social media and report them for arrest. It has reportedly turned up 100 names so far.
“This appalling attack on Tanzanian people simply exercising their human rights shows the danger of inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric at senior levels of government,” Magango said. “We now fear these men may be subjected to forced anal examination, the government’s method of choice for ‘proving’ same-sex sexual activity among men. This must not be allowed to happen — these men must be released immediately.”
Another rights group, Human Rights Watch, notes in a press release that Makonda has “threatened to ‘test’ gay men for homosexuality, provide counselors for those who want to ‘get out of homosexuality,’ and jail others for life.” Tanzanian law does not actually provide for life sentences for gay sex, according to the group, but it is harsh, allowing for sentences of up to 30 years.
The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania has warned Americans living in the nation to be careful about what they post on social media. And now the European Union has recalled its ambassador to Tanzania because of “the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation,” apparently a reference to the anti-LGBTQ crackdown, the Associated Press reports.