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(Nairobi) - The Zimbabwean government should immediately stop persecuting members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe.

On August 20, 2012, police officers entered and occupied the offices of GALZ in Harare for six hours, producing a warrant only after the GALZ lawyers demanded it. They confiscated documents, advocacy materials, and computers. GALZ advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Zimbabwe.

“This latest police raid on the country’s leading LGBT group shows the government’s intolerance of the rights of Zimbabwe’s sexual and gender minorities,” said Monica Tabengwa, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By intimidating and harassing members of GALZ, the authorities are violating their rights to freedom of expression and association.”

In the past decade, Zimbabwean authorities have intensified attacks against members of GALZ including intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and beatings. Mugabe, in office since 1980, has been at the forefront of anti-gay harassment, repeatedly using his office to insult and denigrate gay and lesbian Zimbabweans. He has vowed not to allow the inclusion of LGBT rights in Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which is being drafted.

The August 20 incursion was the second raid on GALZ this month. On August 11, police raided the group’s office without a warrant after the group issued its 2011 LGBTI Rights Violations Report and a briefing on the draft constitution. During the raid, police briefly detained 44 GALZ members, assaulting them with batons, slaps, and punches. A number of injured members needed medical treatment. Police took the names and addresses of all 44 members before releasing them without charge. The following week, police went to some of the members’ homes and took them to police headquarters for further questioning. 

In May 2010, police arrested two GALZ staff members on spurious charges, including “insulting the president,” after the group displayed a letter from the mayor of San Francisco criticizing Mugabe for being homophobic. Police assaulted the two and detained them for six days, pressing them to provide a list of GALZ members. Both were acquitted six months later. One has since fled the country out of concern for her safety.

In July 2012, the police summoned the director of GALZ to confirm that they were continuing to pursue the “insulting the president” charge because the letter is still on display. Under section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, it is an offense to insult the president or bring the office of the president into disrepute. Police said they would prosecute the GALZ director for displaying the letter unless GALZ volunteered the name of another member who would take liability for this action.

The government’s actions against GALZ are contrary to basic rights in both Zimbabwe’s existing constitution and the draft constitution under review. They violate Zimbabwe’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the rights to non-discrimination, liberty and security of the person and privacy, freedom of expression and thought, and association and peaceful assembly.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Mugabe should honor the coalition government’s Global Political Agreement to allow all Zimbabweans to participate freely in all national processes, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure that the review of the constitution results in a document that is tolerant and promotes equality and human rights for all without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The government and people of Zimbabwe should consider the ongoing constitutional review a critically important opportunity to embrace and promote the human rights of all, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Tabengwa said.  

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