By Professor Matodzi
Harare, January 14, 2014 –The High Court has dealt a major blow to Zimbabwean authorities’ attempts to criminalise the work of gays and lesbians after ruling that the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)’s operations in the country were above board.
Zimbabwean police and prosecutors have on numerous occasions targeted GALZ by raiding its offices and summoning its leaders for trial for allegedly running an “unregistered” organisation in contravention of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act (Chapter 17:05).
GALZ chairperson, Martha Tholanah was scheduled to stand trial last month for allegedly leading an unregistered organisation but her trial was postponed to the end of this month.
But, High Court Judge Justice Priscilla Chigumba on Tuesday ruled 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.
The ruling which comes as a relief to GALZ was delivered Tuesday in a case in which the gays and lesbians representative group petitioned the High Court in 2012 seeking an order compelling police to return property belonging to GALZ, which was seized from the organisation’s offices when members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police raided the GALZ premises in Harare’s Milton Park suburb.
The property included computers, DVDs, pamphlets, compact discs and various documents. In raiding and confiscating the GALZ property, the police justified its actions on a search warrant in which the law enforcement agents claimed that the organisation was in “possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution”.
The country’s leading defence group, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose member lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara won the court reprieve welcomed the judge’s decision and said it will closely monitor how prosecutors will now deal with the matter in which GALZ is to stand trial at the end of this month in light of the High Court ruling.
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.