Harare, January 28, 2014 – Zimbabwean authorities’ homophobic attitude towards gays and lesbians will be on the spotlight Wednesday when the trial of a leader of the country’s main gay rights group commences.
Martha Tholanah, the chairperson of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) will stand trial at Harare Magistrates Court on Wednesday for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation.
Tholanah’s trial had been scheduled to commence late last year but was postponed after suffering a false start as the state’s house was not in order.
President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF administration are well-known for their anti-homosexual stance with the octogenarian leader at one time describing gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs”. The administration has made it difficult for same-sex couples to enjoy each other’s company and to venture out and openly declare their relationships in public.
In recent years, GALZ has been banned from participating at some of the country’s high profile fairs and meetings.
Charges of running an unregistered organisation were preferred against Tholanah in August 2012 after police raided and conducted a search at the GALZ offices in Harare.
Although papers served on the GALZ chairperson, who is represented by Tonderai Bhatasara of Mupanga Bhatasara Attorneys, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), summonsing her to attend court are vague as they do not state the exact Act which GALZ represented by Tholanah allegedly violated, the police claim that Tholanah knowing that GALZ was not registered “unlawfully took part in the management of the organisation by gathering its members and continued to carry activities while engaging in gays and lesbians in contravention of the country’s laws.
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, a fortnight ago, 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.
It remains to be seen how prosecutors will now deal with the matter scheduled for trial on Wednesday in light of the High Court order.