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Tanzania gays raped, assaulted by police and put at risk of HIV

Tanzanians who are most at risk of HIV face widespread police abuse, being driving into further risk of infection said a report
Tanzanians who are most at risk of HIV face widespread police abuse, being driving into further risk of infection said a report

LGBT people, along sex workers and people face abuses including torture, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest, and extortion documents a report released today.

In just one example of many interviewees, Saidi W., a gay man arrested in December 2011 reported how he was forced to assemble other gay men in a local bar at gun point, and told by police: ‘If you don’t call your friends, we’ll shoot you.’

They were then told: ‘We’re arresting you because you’re gays and you’re shaming us. Our country does not allow homosexuals. Our law and our religion and customs don’t allow this.’

The group of gay men was then arrested for four days where they were badly beaten up and successively raped, with policemen not even bothering to wear condoms.

Only after bribing the police with a huge ransom were the group released.

Such abuse drives the high-risk populations away from prevention and treatment services, putting them and the population at large of Tanzania at risk of HIV infections, stressed the The 98-page report, ‘Treat Us Like Human Beings’ that was released today.

‘The Tanzanian government has committed on paper to reduce the stigma for at-risk groups, but that commitment is meaningless if the police regularly rape, assault, and arrest them,’ said Neela Ghoshal, LGBT Rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), a co-author organization of the report along with Wake Up and Step Forward Coalition (WASO).

The report also documented a wide range of abuses against at-risk groups in the health sector, including denial of services, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality.

In addition a vigilante group was implicated in violence against these at-risk populations.

LGBT people are also denied access to information about HIV, and public awareness campaigns only target heterosexual couples.

Many community-based organizations believe they cannot offer services to LGBT people, fearing that working with them, in itself, illegal, while LGBT people are prevented from registering and setting up their own groups.

In 2011, police arrested and beat one gay man in Dar es Salaam simply because he tried to organize a workshop for other men who have sex with men.

Tanzanian law punishes consensual sexual conduct between adult males with 30 years to life in prison, one of the harshest sentences for same-sex intimacy in the world.

In the Island autonomous region of Zanzibar, the law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual relations between men, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison, and between women, with up to 5 years in prison.

International rights group have called for decriminalizing sex work and same-sex conduct involving consenting adults, as the laws not only violate international treaties of human rights but puts people at greater risk of HIV infection.

President Jakaya Kikwete should publicly condemn police abuse, discrimination in health care, and all other forms of discrimination against LGBT people, sex workers, people who and use drugs.

Rights group also stressed that donors should ensure that funding directed to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in Tanzania includes funds specifically aimed at these key populations’ health needs, and should support the development of civil society organizations representing them.

‘If Tanzania is truly committed to addressing HIV/AIDS among key populations, it needs a coordinated, rights-based approach,’ Ghoshal said.

‘The police and health care workers should provide protection and treatment to at-risk groups, rather than setting an example of hatred and bigotry.’

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