Police in Tanzania have been accused by Human Rights Watch (HRW) of sexually assaulting LGBT citizens, sex workers and drugs users.

In a new report HRW warned efforts to reduce HIV infection rates in the African country were being undermined by widespread state abuse of sexual minorities.

“The government’s HIV policy can’t succeed if police are driving away the very people the public health programmes most need to reach,” Neela Ghoshal, a HRW researcher said in a statement.

Men who have sex with men in Tanzania face a jail sentence ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment.

Researchers found that sex workers, sexual minorities and drug users were often arrested and detained for days on end, beaten and raped by the police. Officers even gang raped children as young as 12-years-old.

“I have had sex with policemen many times so I cannot even remember how many,” Halima, a sex worker, told HRW. “He catches me, he wants money, but I do not have money so he will force me to have sex with him.”

HRW also identified dozens of cases in which health workers turned away sex workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and drug users without offering services or they publicly humiliated them.

Jamal, a man who has sex with men, said a doctor refused to treat him for gonorrhoea because of his sexual orientation.

“He said: ‘You already have sex with men, now you come here to bring us problems – go away,” Jamal told HRW.

A man who was trying to organise a health seminar for gay and bisexual men was arrested, beaten and detained for two days. When he sought medical treatment, the hospital told him that he must first get a form from the police to show that he was a victim of assault – but the police refused.

The police have a duty to protect such vulnerable people, not expose them to hatred and bigotry, HRW said.