A gay activist in the Congo claims he was detained by police and raped with wooden sticks by prisoners as officers looked on.
Three months have passed since Joseph Saidi, 26, has managed to sleep through the night. Even when he does, vivid nightmares of his torture in prison torment him.
According to early reports, it started with a phone call. In early May 2013, he received an urgent ring. A man named ‘Guilin’ requested his immediate assistance, claiming to have been sexually assaulted so violently as to need hospitalization.
Saidi, the executive director of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, an LGBT activist organization, rushed to meet the caller in Bukavu, a city in the eastern province of Sud-Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not finding anyone there, he checked himself into a nearby hotel.
At around 5am on 4 May he awoke to the pounding of police agents at his door. Following a string of accusations, he subsequently spent the next four days in a prison cell of the Bukavu Criminal Investigation Police department.
Saidi was repeatedly insulted, kicked by police, denied food, and raped with wooden sticks by cell-mates while police agents looked on. Several human rights organizations have detailed the abuse he received in his prison cell.
One of these, the Dublin-based Front Line Defenders, even quotes the initial threat uttered by one of the police agents who arrested him: ‘You, chief of demons, open the door. We will burn you today because it’s your last day on Earth. You’ve turned our sons and daughters into homosexuals; you have destroyed Congolese and African culture. Enough is enough. We will teach you that here, we do not tolerate you.’
On 8 May Saidi was released on bail of US $400 (€300), which his work colleagues paid.
But one of them, Jérémie Safari, is reported to have offended police agents in the process. As a result, he was similarly detained and abused on 9 May for a 24-hour period.
Saidi, who has had to flee the DRC, currently lives in hiding in an undisclosed location which has even stricter laws against homosexuality. He considers seeking asylum in a country less hostile to LGBTI people.
Safari, who remains in Bukavu, still periodically receives death threats. Both men were treated for severe physical injuries inflicted during their detention.
Local and international human rights activists call for a reaction to Saidi and Safari’s case. The African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO) issued a press release ten days after Saidi’s release from prison, insisting on a response from the governor of Sud-Kivu, the provincial police and other human rights defenders. However, the response so far has been lagging.
‘An investigation was started, but since Joseph is not in the country, we don’t know what the police in Bukavu will do about his case. The response so far has been weak. The only adequate response would have been for reparations to have been made to the victims and the prosecution of the perpetrators involved,’ said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the ASADHO), based in Kinshasa .
Similar abuse claims are common in the Congo and police appear to act with impunity.
Katende said: ‘Gays aren’t necessarily targeted here. It’s necessary to differentiate between societal discrimination and the abuse of power by authorities.’
However, two of Saidi’s charges, ‘promoting homosexuality in the Congo’ and ‘being the founder of an LGBTI organization’ directly target his sexual orientation.
This is despite the DRC not having a law explicitly criminalizing homosexuality.
Meanwhile the particular details of the case remain unclear, including the names of the men and police officers who were involved in Saidi and Safari’s torture and rape in custody. No one from the Bukavu provincial police department could be reached for comment.