A Tanzanian official started a horrendous witch-hunt against gay people. In a recent Youtube video, Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam, requested Tanzanian citizens to report anyone whom they believed is gay. Till now, he has received over 5,700 messages containing the names of more than 100 suspects.
“I have received reports that there are so many homosexuals in our city, and these homosexuals are advertising and selling their services on the Internet,” Makonda said in the video. “Therefore, I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam. If you know any gays, report them to me.”
Makonda also revealed his plan to form a special committee consisted of 17 police officers and officials to identify gay people on social media platforms. Those caught are expected to go to prison for a long time.
Afraid of what might happen to them, gay people, especially LGBTQ activists, have gone underground or moved out of the city.
Geofrey Mashala, a Tanzanian activist living in California and currently making a documentary on the topic, spoke to The Guardians of the hysteria Makonda had created: “every gay person is living in fear. Even the parents of gay children are also living in great fear.”
In recent years, the Tanzanian government has grown increasingly hostile to the LGBTQ community. Makonda’s message is exploiting and intensifying the homophobic sentiments that are deeply rooted and already widespread throughout the country.
On the paper, if someone is convicted for having “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” he or she could face up to 30 years of imprisonment.
The government in 2016 banned an NGO campaign that aimed to battle HIV/Aids by giving out free lube to gay people, ignoring warnings from medical professionals that the ban would greatly accelerate both the rate and the scope of infection.
In 2017, President Magufuli made an outrageous statement that “even cows” would agree that homosexuality is sinful and those engaged in it should be deported or arrested.
Also last year, a raid took place at a hotel in Dar es Salaam. The police took 12 men into custody for promoting same-sex relationships.
Gay people not only face prosecution from the government, but also discrimination and persecution from society.
It is common for Tanzanians to attack gay people on the street. “If you are on the bus or walk on the street and maybe two or three guys start to shout: ‘Hey, he’s a gay, he’s a gay’. Suddenly, 10 people can join these two people, or 20 people, and start attacking you on the street,” Mashala said. “You cannot do anything. You cannot go to the police. You cannot ask people to help you.”
Activist groups and international organizations strongly condemned Makonda’s actions. Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and a UN high commissioner for human rights, believed that the “witch-hunt could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT”.
On Monday, the European Union recalled its ambassador from Tanzania as an act of protest. The U.S. also put out an official warning urging American citizens in the country to “remove or protect” social media content that “may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.”
Unwilling to incur further criticism, the Tanzanian government attempted to distance itself from Makoda. Officials claimed that Makoda’s online campaign only reflected his personal belief and did not represent the official opinion of the national government.
Featured image via Kevin Sief/The Washington Post