Police have arrested 20 LGBTQ people in Zanzibar for attending a workshop on HIV/AIDS, authorities say. Twelve men and eight women were apprehended in a hotel.
Hassan Ali Nasri, who serves as a regional police commander in the Tanzanian archipelago, confirmed the reports in a television broadcast. “They are implicated in homosexuality,” Nasri claimed. “We arrested them and are busy interrogating them. The police cannot turn a blind eye to this practice.”
Zanzibar will “fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country,” said Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla in an address delivered in front of its house of parliament.
These arrests follow a recent crackdown on LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS advocacy in the islands.
Although Tanzania criminalizes male homosexuality with one of the world’s harshest jail sentencesof 30 years to life in prisonthe semi-independent province of Zanzibar did not begin enforcing these laws until President John Magufuli took office. Elected in 2015, Magufuli claimed earlier this year that “even cows disapprove of” homosexuality.
Magufuli’s influence has had a powerful impact on the lives of LGBTQ people in Zanzibar.
Last year, the province began banning the sale of lubricants, alleging that their distribution encouraged gay sex. Just months later, the government began shutting down HIV/AIDS clinics in Zanzibar. LGBTQ groups have likewise faced threats of closure, and authorities have threatened foreigners caught working for queer and trans rights with immediate deportation.
LGBTQ advocates should “find another country that allows those things,” Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba has stated.
Friday’s arrests were yet another example of how officials have acted on this animus to make queer and trans people’s lives impossible. In 2016, the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch reported that nine men were apprehended by police and forced to undergo anal exams, a discredited practice which serves to “verify” homosexuality.
A man in Dar Es Salaam was also subjected to an anal exam following his arrest earlier this year.
Human Rights Watch has called the practice “cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment” and claimed it violates the United Nations codes on torture. Anal exams are standard practice in eight countries, but they didn’t become widely utilized in Zanzibar until December 2016.