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Cops and neighbors with machetes raid gay youth safe house

Lesbian activist assaulted in Congo, house torn down, 21 LGBT young people made homeless. Householder was poisoned when she returned
Léonie Bitorwa surveys the damage to her house which was raided by anti-gay neighbors and police.
Photo by Jeremie Safari.

Police and neighbors, wielding hammers and machetes, raided the house of a Congloese lesbian who was sheltering LGBT young people, Gay Star News has learned.

Once inside the property in Bukavu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), they assaulted Léonie Bitorwa, 40, a lesbian activist who sheltered gay young people in her home.

Details of the raid in the early afternoon of 22 July have just emerged.

A crowd of approximately 20 neighbors and ‘polices de l'hygiène et l'assainissement’ – a branch of the DRC's national police responsible for enforcing sanitation, building, and municipal codes – forced their way into Bitorwa’s house wielding machetes and hammers.

Moments before the attack took place, she heard the irate throng coming.

‘I thought I was going to die,’ she said.

According to Bitorwa, someone from the group proclaim at her door: ‘It is here that the dirty girl destroys the morality of our brothers and sisters by establishing a home for homosexuals in our neighborhood, we don't want that in our neighborhood.’

Bitorwa said she called the head of her district (Nyalukemba), who told her that he would arrive within minutes but he only arrived two hours later, during which time individuals from the crowd climbed to the top of her house and began to remove roof tiles, while others forced the door open and broke the windows.

At this point, Bitorwa said she started to scream which attracted even more attention and caused the crowd's menaces to intensify.

When she finally opened the door, they started verbally and physically attacking her and destroying her property.

As the crowd destroyed Bitorwa’s furniture, they threatened her saying ‘if you do not tell us the truth, we will kill you because we already know that you too are a lesbian and that you do things that are against nature and against Congolese culture.’

Damage to the house includes broken dishes, glasses, chairs, burned mattresses, and a gaping opening facing the rest of the city where a wall used to stand.

A few days prior to the attack, Bitorwa, one of the executive members of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, a Congolese organization that promotes the equal rights of LGBT people, had received a series of homophobic threats both on the phone and on the streets of her neighborhood.

Bitorwa’s residence provided temporary shelter to 21 gay, lesbian, and transgender young people who were rejected by their families, either while they were pending reconciliation or when the family mediation efforts of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko did not succeed.

The former residents would otherwise have had to resort to prostituting themselves in brothels for livelihood, due to lack of sufficient means.

‘I don’t know where the kids went after the attack,’ said Bitorwa, visibly distraught, ‘I’ve tried to contact them, but most of them have dispersed.’

Two months after the attack, only one of house’s original residents, a withdrawn young lesbian, continues to sleep in what remains of the house – a lean-to with one half exposed to the outside.

Meanwhile, Bitorwa still lives in relative homelessness and convalescence. She has been staying with friends and says her attempt to return to her house following its destruction has resulted in more injury. Apparently, someone applied poison to her bedroom doorknob.

‘It’s crocodile poison,’ claimed Héritier Makiwa the traditional herbologist and neighbor who treated her. Bitorwa's injuries include chest pains and a bloated stomach, but she has yet to seek medical treatment.

‘It only cost me $20 US [€15] to get treatment from him [Makiwa]. I would like to see a doctor, but it is much more expensive.’

Due to her lack of financial means, Bitorwa was unable to hire a lawyer and was thus prevented from filing complaints against the police agents and neighbors who assaulted her and destroyed her house.

Just two months earlier, in May 2013, her colleague Joseph Saidi, the president of Rainbow Sunrise was illegally imprisoned and raped with wooden sticks while police watched.

The Congolese penal code neither condemns or condones homosexuality.

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