Ten men have been arrested on suspicion of being gay on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar after police raided a same-sex wedding, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
The group said the men were arrested and sex others fled when police raided a party at Pongwe Beach, Zanzibar last Saturday night (November 3).
Amnesty said the men were arrested for allegedly conducting a same-sex marriage, with police saying they found the men sitting in pairs “two by two”.
The men are being held at a police station, despite no charges being brought against them.
“It is 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,” Amnesty’s Deputy Director for East Africa Seif Magongo said in a statement.
“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 arrests come after a Dar es Salaam city governor Paul Makonda last week announced plans to form a taskforce to hunt down LGBTIQ people, urging the public to pass the names of suspected gay men to the police.
He also suggested anyone found would be sent to dangerous “conversion” therapy.
“These homosexuals boast on social networks… Give me their names. My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday,” Makonda said at the time.
He added, “We have a team of doctors and psychologists to help them to change.”
‘Shocking blow’ for LGBTIQ Tanzanians
On Sunday, the Government of Tanzania released a statement through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, distancing itself from Makonda’s “personal opinions” but stopping short of condemning them.
“The United Republic of Tanzania will also continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country’s constitution,” the statement read.
But Amnesty International said the new arrests were a “shocking blow” following that assurance no one would be targeted and arrested because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under British colonial-era laws, homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania with gay sex punishable with 30 years prison.
The country’s penal code criminalises anyone who “has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and homophobia is rife in the country.
Last year, Amnesty International said there had been “an unprecedented crackdown” on homosexuals in Tanzania and reported that authorities had subjected people to “forced anal examinations, a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that can amount to torture.”
Anti-LGBTIQ sentiment and arrests of LGBTIQ increased since Tanzanian President John Magufuli came into power in 2015.
In 2016, Tanzanian authorities devastated HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the country by banning sexual lubricants and private HIV/AIDS health clinics, saying they encouraged gay sex.