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posted Friday, May 28, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 22
Gay activists arrested in Zimbabwe, tortured in prison
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Gay activists arrested in Zimbabwe, tortured in prison

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

LGBT activists Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Muhambi were arrested by police in the African country of Zimbabwe on May 21.

The next time they were seen in public, at a court hearing on May 26, both were limping.

Dzimbabwe Chimbga, defense attorney with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Civil Rights, charged that government agents had tortured his clients in prison.

The two were released on bail and admitted to a Harare hospital for medical exams on May 27.

Chimbga said his clients were weary and in pain.

Muhambi was beaten on his kneecaps with empty bottles to get him to reveal the names of other members of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Chimbga said. He added that Chademana was forced to do squats.

Chademana is the administrator of GALZ, and Muhambi is an accountant for the group.

Attorney David Hofisi, also with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Civil Rights, said he was not allowed to see the two GALZ staff members in jail over the weekend.

"We asked the police to release them to us so we can come with them to court on Wednesday, but they have denied that," Hofisi said.

In addition to general concerns about the safety of the pair, Chademana is diabetic and there are concerns for her health.

Concerns increased when it came to light that the search warrant for the May 20 raid was signed by Police Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi.

According to LGBT Asylum News, Magwenzi has been implicated in "disappearances" of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's political opponents, illegal detentions, and torture of prisoners.

"The initial charges are that they were found in possession of pornographic material," attorney Chimbga told Associated Press on May 25.

"Now the police want to add a charge of insulting the president [Robert Mugabe]," he added. "They are saying during the raid they found a poster which said things which are not good about the president."

Chimbga continued, "We haven't seen the said pornographic material or the poster. We are going to the high court to seek their release through an urgent chamber application."

Zimbabwean police told Associated Press reporters that they had found a letter undermining President Mugabe during the raid. GALZ activists had posted it on their wall.

The letter was reportedly from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Brown congratulated GALZ on their work for LGBT rights, and criticized Pres. Mugabe for being anti-Gay.

At the May 27 bail hearing, it appeared that the charge of insulting or undermining Zimbabwe's president would be withdrawn. Only charges under Zimbabwe's Censorship and Entertainment Control Act were presented at the hearing.

GALZ told foreign reporters that the raid on their office is part of growing pressure in Zimbabwe against LGBT rights.

"About a month ago, two foreign student interns were stopped at the airport trying to leave Zimbabwe and interrogated and detained. All of the GALZ material they had in their possession was confiscated."

GALZ activists said they feared that other arrests will follow.

"We understand that it is currently unsafe for GALZ employees and volunteers who are outside of Zimbabwe at various meetings, including an OSISA [Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa] meeting in Johannesburg, to return to Zimbabwe as there is a concern that they will be arrested at the airport."

Mugabe has frequently indulged in inflammatory anti-Gay rhetoric.

"Three days ago," Mugabe said during recent debates on a new national constitution, "I heard that some people want us to discuss the issue of Gays in the new constitution. How do we even begin to talk about it? Those who engage in homosexual behavior are just crazy. It's just madness. Insanity. We can't do it or the dead will turn in their graves."

"If you are doing that [Gay sex], you are destroying nationhood," he said on another occasion.

Mugabe has also described homosexuality as an "alien practice that is being exported into our country."

"In Britain and the United States," he added, "I saw an archbishop blessing a Gay wedding. ... I want to see how they will procreate. If they manage, then I will admit that I don't know."

Mugabe opponent and current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai does not support LGBT rights either, however.

Speaking after Mugabe at a joint event, Tsvangirai said, "The president has spoken on the issue of Gay rights, men who breathe to other men's ears. Never, I don't accept that culture. Why do you look for other men when women make up 52% of the population? Men are few."

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, as it is in most African countries, but arrests for homosexuality are reportedly very rare.

Arrests for challenging the authority of Pres. Mugabe are quite common, however.

Mugabe, now 86, has been in power since Ian Smith's white minority regime collapsed in 1980.

In 1982, Mugabe drove his political rival Joshua Nkomo out of the country, and remained the unchallenged leader of the country until 2000.

In that year, Mugabe encouraged unemployed veterans of his anti-colonialist guerilla movement to seize farms owned by white settlers.

Land redistribution was followed by hyperinflation so severe that Mugabe's government was forced to suspend the national currency. South African rand and U.S. dollars are now the currency of exchange in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe's opponents charged that ill-considered land reform projects had destroyed the national economy. Mugabe replied that the country's financial problems were the result of international sanctions imposed by the U.S., the EU, and Australia.

In 2008 Mugabe's party lost national parliamentary elections in a campaign marred by widespread use of police to intimidate the president's political opponents.

Since the 2008 election, Mugabe retained the post of president by coming to a power-sharing arrangement with MDC opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now prime minister.

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