Gay and transgender people in Tanzania have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives, after a senior government official called on the public to report suspected homosexuals so that they could be arrested from early next week.
Paul Makonda, regional commissioner for Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam, announced the crackdown on Monday. He said a team would be set up to identify and arrest the “many homosexuals”, who could face up to 30 years in jail.
Mr Makonda’s announcement has sparked panic and fear among thousands of LGBT people in the east African nation. Some said they were too scared to go outside during the day, while others had left their homes fearing imminent arrest.
“Since Monday, I have left my place and have been moving here and there. I am always looking over my shoulder in case they coming for me,” Nathan, 24, told Reuters by phone from Dar es Salaam.
“There’s so much tension within the gay community at the moment. Not just in Dar, but all over the country. We are really scared. We don’t know what to do and where to go.”
Gay sex is illegal in Tanzania, but the law is rarely enforced. Homophobia and attacks and arrests on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have however risen since President John Magufuli’s election in 2015, activists say.
Even though the clampdown is set to begin on Monday, Nathan claimed that homes were already being raided in the port city and gay people were arrested.
African countries have some of the most prohibitive colonial-era laws against homosexuality in the world. Same-sex relationships are seen as taboo and are a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
As a result, the persecution, discrimination and exploitation of Africa’s sexual minorities is rife, say campaigners.
They are routinely abused, blackmailed, assaulted by mobs, or raped by police or vigilantes. Many are unable to get jobs due to their sexual identity – forcing them to sell sex through social media sites.
Tanzania has had a reputation for being more tolerant than its neighbour Uganda but, since President Magufuli came to power three years ago, campaigners say the little protection, representation and freedom LGBT people had is now being slowly eroded.
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