The government of Tanzania has attempted to distance itself from an anti-gay crackdown in the city of Dar es Salaam.
The Tanzanian foreign ministry put out the statement responding to international concerns after the governor of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, vowed to create a regional anti-gay task force.
The statement, issued November 4 on behalf of the national Tanzanian government, says: “[We wish] to clarify that Mr Makonda was only airing his personal opinion which does not represent the official position of the United Republic of Tanzania.”
According to The Citizen, it adds: “The United Republic of Tanzania will also continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country’s constitution.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania under a penal code that dates back to the British colonial era.
On October 29, Makonda vowed to turn Dar es Salaam into “a non-gay city,” calling on members of the public to submit intelligence about suspected homosexuals for the government crackdown.
Makonda, who has held his position since 2016, spoke out against “the presence of many homosexuals in our province,” telling the public: “Give me their names. My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them.”
The governor said he was anticipating backlash from people who lived outside Tanzania, but said that he would “prefer to anger those countries than to anger God.”
LGBT+ people can face up to life imprisonment in Tanzania if convicted of having gay sex.
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The US State Department issued a security alert to LGBT+ people in Tanzania on November 3.
It warned people in the region to “review internet footprint and social media profiles” and “remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity.”
The US Embassy in Tanzania warned: “Although under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Tanzanian officials are obligated to alert the American Embassy if they arrest American citizens, this is not consistently done.
“Detained or arrested citizens should, therefore, ask authorities if consular notification has been made.”
The UK government’s travel advice warns that homosexuality “is not tolerated in Tanzania’s conservative society” and cautions that “public displays of homosexuality like holding hands or kissing in public places could lead to arrest and imprisonment.”
Experts and activists living in the city—the country’s former capital—have told PinkNews that they expect the queer community to be targeted with anal testing, forced convictions and “a high level of brutal violence and harassment.”
“It is expected the arrests are going to happen,” one gay man said, “since the police in Tanzania don’t follow the law anymore, but instead follow what politicians like Makonda say.”
“They don’t care even if the arrest is illegal. I was illegally arrested last year with other activists since we wanted to sue the government for illegally getting rid of drop-in centres and lubricants that were given for free as an HIV-prevention package.”