Federal authorities in Tanzania are distancing themselves from a pledge to begin mass arrests of LGBTQ people in the African country’s largest city.
One day before Governor Paul Makonda vowed police in Dar es Salaam would begin rounding up suspected LGBTQ individuals, Tanzania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation claimed the remarks represented “his own views and not government position.”
In a statement issued Sunday evening, the foreign ministry said it would “continue to respect all international agreements on human rights that have been signed and ratified.”
Last week, Makonda held a press conference in which he announced the creation of a 17-person surveillance team which would investigate any reports of same-sex behavior in Dar es Salaam. Homosexuality is illegal in the East African country, punishable with a sentence of 30 years to life.
Makonda claimed his task force had already received the names of hundreds of suspected LGBTQ people but urged Tanzanians to assist authorities by keeping a close watch on friends and neighbors.
“Being gay is not allowed,” Makonda said, as NPR first reported.
“As we take this stand, do not tell us about human rights,” the regional authority continued. “There is no right to go against creation written on any religious books. Keep your laws. Being gay is not allowed here in Dar es Salaam.”
The task force was expected to begin arrests on Monday, Makonda claimed.
It remains to be seen, however, whether those plans will move forward with John Magufuli’s government appearing to condemn the incarceration campaign. Magufuli, whose election to the presidency in 2015 is viewed as ushering in a hardline stance toward Tanzania’s LGBTQ community, has yet to issue a statement.
Last year Magufuli made international headlines after claiming that “even cows” should be disgusted by homosexuality. His administration has shut down HIV/AIDS clinics, deported LGBTQ activists, and banned the sale of anal lubricants.
Tanzania’s health ministry previously promised to publish a public list of known gay individuals, but that did not come to pass.
This most recent attack on Tanzania’s queer and trans communities has been met with widespread international outrage. Amnesty International said the task force should be “immediately abandoned,” calling it an “extremely regrettable” campaign which exists only to “incite hatred.”
The European Union recalled its envoy to Tanzania in protest of the decision. Susanne Mbise, a press officer with the EU, claimed the coalition of nations would begin “conducting a broad review of its relations” with the country.
“The EU regrets the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in Tanzania,” Mbise said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy further warned American tourists traveling to Tanzania to remove any information from their social media profiles which may be used to incriminate them under the country’s colonial-era sodomy ban. The Tanzania Penal Code of 1945 prohibits “acts of gross indecency between persons.”
“Remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity,” the embassy advised in a statement.
It claimed any U.S. citizen detained by Tanzania police should notify the consulate.
Makonda predicted the backlash last week and pledged he would not be dissuaded by what the international community thought of his anti-LGBTQ stance. The governor said he would rather “anger those countries than to anger God.”
At least 12 people were arrested last year for meeting at a hotel in Dar es Salaam after being accused of “promoting homosexuality.”
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