Harare, February 22, 2014 – Zimbabwean authorities have stepped up their antipathy towards the activities of gays and lesbians after summoning the leader of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) to stand trial Monday on charges of running an “unregistered” organisation.
Police recently served summons on GALZ chairperson Martha Tholanah to appear in court 5 at Harare Magistrates Court where her trial is scheduled to commence.
The police claim that Tholanah presided over the administration of GALZ, which they have classified as an unregistered organisation in contravention of Section 6 (1) (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act Chapter 17:05.
Charges of running an unregistered organisation were preferred against Tholanah, who is represented by Tonderai Bhatasara of Mupanga Bhatasara Attorneys, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), in August 2012 after police officers raided and conducted a search at the GALZ offices in Harare’s Milton Park suburb.
According to the summons which were seen by Radio VOP, Tholanah though with the knowledge that GALZ was not registered “unlawfully took part in the management of the organisation by gathering its members and continued to carry out activities while engaging in gays and lesbians activities” in contravention of the PVO Act.
The search at the GALZ offices was preceded by instances of police harassment of members of GALZ while some materials including computers and fliers were confiscated.
However, in January, High Court Judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba ordered Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, Chief Superintendent Henry Dhowa, Detective Chief Inspector Runganga, Detective Assistant Ben Justen, and the Minister of Home Affairs to return the GALZ property. The granting of the order came after Bhatasara filed an application in the High Court in October 2012 seeking the release of the property, arguing that it was not linked to the commission of any crime. The Zimbabwe Republic Police had opposed the application and argued that it would not release the property until the completion of their probe and because they wanted to use the items as exhibits in court.
Justice Chigumba also declared invalid and set aside the warrant of search and seizure issued by Dhowa and executed by Runganga and Justen when they raided the GALZ offices. The search and seizure, the High Court Judge said, was unlawful and contravened the rights of GALZ as specified in Section 17 of the former Constitution of Zimbabwe and Section 57 of the current Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The High Court Order further stated that GALZ is not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act [Chapter 17:05] as it is not a private voluntary organisation and is specifically exempted by the Act.
Human rights groups fear that by pressing ahead with the prosecution of the GALZ leader even though the High Court recently exempted GALZ from registering under the PVO Act, representatives of the National Prosecuting Authority could be abusing their powers and bend on persecuting gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe.
President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party supporters are infamous for their anti-homosexual stance. Mugabe has described gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs” while in recent years, GALZ has been banned from participating at some of the country’s high profile fairs and meetings.