The Tanzanian High Commission in Pretoria was on Tuesday flocked by a crowd of protesters, demanding the release of 13 people, including two South African human rights lawyers, arrested for allegedly promoting homosexuality in the capital Dar es Salaam.
Lawyers for Human Rights' Sharon Ekambaram said their detained "comrades", led by Sibongile Ndashe, director of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), are detained in Tanzania on trumped-up charges.
"Our first priority is to get our comrades out of the police holding cells. We want to understand what the charges are, and what are the allegations. It is shocking to be accused of mobilising and having activities around the rights of lesbian people. That is a constitutionally guaranteed right," said Ekambaram.
"That [gay and lesbian activities] is not a criminal offence, but that is not what the people were doing in Tanzania. There is enough evidence of what they were doing."
She said protesters at Tanzania House in Pretoria which has been guarded by members of the South African Police Service, were sending a message of solidarity with the detained group.
"We stand here in solidarity with the comrades that have been unlawfully detained in Tanzania, they are in police holding cells. We campaign and advocate for the right for respect of human rights and human dignity. We think that fighting for decent and affordable healthcare, which is what the comrades were doing, is not a criminal act. It is what democracy is about," she said.
"We condemn the trumped-up accusations that are being made against our activists who are working on the continent, and in Tanzania in this case, to improve the quality of life and access to healthcare for all people on the continent."
Ndashe's mother Winnie was part of the protest in Pretoria on Tuesday. She was waving a placard boldly inscribed "Tanzania free my daughter". Some of the protesters held placards on which were written "What are the charges?" and "We demand justice for LGBTI lives".
Tanzanian police allegedly raided a legal consultation meeting, convened by Isla and Community Health Services and Advocacy (Chesa), in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday last week. The arrested activists were initially released on bail, which was subsequently revoked on Friday and they were detained again.
The arrests were said to be due to the fact that the activists were “promoting homosexuality.”
In response to the detention, LHR said the said reasons are not only feeble, but disingenuous, given that the Tanzanian police were in possession of a concept note and agenda for the legal consultation meeting.
"It is clear from that documentation that the meeting, convened by Isla, was aimed at taking legal instructions on a possible challenge to the government’s ban on drop-in centers serving key populations at risk of HIV," said the LHR statement.
A memorandum read at the Tanzania High Commission on Tuesday by Phumla Mthethwa said there is no legal basis for the arrests and the continued detention of the 13.
- African News Agency (ANA)