A lesbian has been arrested in Tanzania after a video of her kissing another woman went viral last month, causing a firestorm in the conservative East African country.
The video clip in question appears to show a marriage proposal, as early reports from Reuters seem to indicate, but much about the case remains unknown. What is known is that the footage depicts two women locking lips and hugging at a party (likely in the northwestern town of Geita, where the detainee lives). The moment is followed by the prisoner presenting her partner with a ring.
The recipient of that gesture has yet to be apprehended. But Geita police chief Mponjoli Mwabulambo told reporters that it is “just a matter of time” before the second woman is brought to justice.
“[T]he plan is to eliminate the entire chain of people involved or supporting homosexuality for the betterment of the generations,” Mwabulambo said.
Law enforcement officials have claimed that the investigation into the matter is ongoing, but the women at the center of the controversy potentially face steep penalties. Tanzania enforces one of the world’s harshest punishments for homosexuality. Being found guilty of “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” carries a sentence of 30 years to life in prison.
The lesbian detainee is the most recent LGBTQ victim of a recent crackdown on queer life under the repressive regime of President John Magufuli, who has claimed that “even cows” disapprove of same-sex relationships.
Since Magufuli took office in 2015, the country has targeted LGBTQ advocacy in the state. Last year federal authorities banned nongovernmental organizations from distributing lubricants, hoping to “curb homosexuality.” Those resources are intended to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in a nation where 1.4 million people are living with the virus (out of a population of 55 million).
Tanzania subsequently shuttered more than 40 privately run HIV/AIDS clinics earlier this year, charging that they “cater to homosexuals.”
The government went even further in October, arresting 13 queer people in a raid on the Peacock Hotel in the former capital city of Dar Es Salaam. Although authorities claimed that the meeting was intended for the purpose of promoting “marriage between people of the same sex,” the activists were meeting to mount a court challenge to Tanzania’s deadly attack on HIV/AIDS services.
More than 36,000 people die in the country each year due to complications from the virus, and that number is likely to increase without access to proper medication or treatment.
But Tanzanian officials have refused to back down, even in the face of criticism from international human rights organizations. Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister, Mwigulu Nchemba, claimed at a June rally that the country would deregister LGBTQ advocacy groups and deport anyone working for equality.
“If a Tanzanian national is doing that campaign, we will arrest him and take him to court,” Nchemba said at the time, “and if it is a foreigner, we will immediately order him to leave the country.”
LGBTQ groups in Tanzania were unable to comment on the story prior to publication time.
Photography: Getty Images