Twenty people have been arrested on Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago Zanzibar for alleged homosexuality, a police official said Saturday, in the latest crackdown on the country’s gay community.
“They are implicated in homosexuality. We arrested them and are busy interrogating them. The police cannot turn a blind eye to this practice,” said regional police commander Hassan Ali Nasri on state television.
He said the 12 women and eight men were arrested in a hotel where they were undergoing training from an NGO that works on HIV/AIDS education programmes.
In February, Tanzania announced it was stopping many privately run health centres from providing AIDS-related services, which Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said promoted homosexuality.
Gay male sex is punishable by anything from 30 years to life imprisonment under Tanzanian law, but there is no such ban on lesbian relations.
However, politicians had largely ignored the gay community – which was not subject to levels of discrimination seen in other countries such as neighbouring Uganda – until a recent spike in anti-gay rhetoric by the government.
On Friday, deputy health minister Hamisi Kingwangalla vowed in front of parliament to “fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country”.
Government has in past month vowed to deport foreigners who “campaign for homosexuality”.
Dozens of men suspected of being gay have been detained and taken to hospital for anal exams to confirm their homosexuality.
In July last year the government banned the import and sales of sexual lubricants, which Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said encouraged homosexuality which led to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 countries in Africa, and is punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, according to Amnesty International.
Uganda in 2014 tried to impose the death penalty on those found guilty of being homosexual, however the controversial law was later repealed.