Ten men have been arrested on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar for ‘being gay’ days after a high-profile politician created a hit squad to hunt down homosexuals.
The group were detained when police raided a party at Pongwe Beach after authorities received a tip-off from members of the public.
The arrests come days after Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam, said an anti-gay surveillance team would be using social media to hunt people down.
He also encouraged people to hand over names of anyone they suspected of being gay so authorities could investigate.
His comments were subsequently denounced by the Tanzanian government – but homosexuality is still a crime in deeply religious Tanzania and homophobic rhetoric has been on the rise since President John Magufuli was elected in 2015.
Seif Magango, East Africa Deputy Director for human rights group Amnesty International, said: ‘This is a shocking blow following the Tanzanian government’s assurance that no-one would be targeted and arrested because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
‘This appalling attack on Tanzanian people simply exercising their human rights shows the danger of inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric at senior levels of government.
‘We now fear these men may be subjected to forced anal examination, the government’s method of choice for ‘proving’ same-sex sexual activity among men. This must not be allowed to happen – these men must be released immediately.’
The ten men are being held at Chakwal police station in Unguja, despite the fact no charges were brought against them.
Six others at the party on Saturday night managed to flee from police.
Human Rights group Amnesty International has established that the men were arrested for allegedly conducting a gay marriage, with police saying they found the men sitting in pairs ‘two by two’.
Mr Magongo said: ‘It’s mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions. The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court, despite arresting them three days ago.’
Last week, Makonda, who is a close ally of President Magufuli, said: ‘I have received reports that there are so many homosexuals in our city, and these homosexuals, are advertising and selling their services on the internet.
‘Therefore, I am announcing this to every citizen of Dar es Salaam. If you know any gays … report them to me, give me their names.’
The anti-gay surveillance team will be made up of 17 people including state officials, police and people involved in the media.