BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Forty-four members of a gay advocacy organization — 31 men and 13 women — were detained, then released without charge, after their Harare, Zimbabwe, headquarters was raided over the weekend, The Zimbabwean reports.
In a statement, the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) association alleges four policemen tried to gain entry to the premises, called for backup and were subsequently joined by 15 riot squad officers who "effected arrest."
"Police, some of them visibly drunk, assaulted most of the members using baton sticks, open hands, and clenched fists before detaining them without charge," the statement says.
GALZ says the raid came as its members were preparing for the release of a report on abuses against gays and a briefing on the second draft of the Zimbabwean constitution.
The country's notoriously anti-gay president, Robert Mugabe, has referred to gays as "worse than dogs and pigs" and used his 88th birthday to go on a homophobic rant against gay rights and British Prime Minister David Cameron's threat to redirect aid from central governments that did not respect queer rights.
Mugabe has said he would never allow gay rights in Zimbabwe, rejecting calls for the new constitution to guarantee them.
"Denying Zimbabweans the right to participate in processes that complement national efforts is an infringement of the right to freedom of expression and association," GALZ says in the wake of the weekend raid. "It is the constitutional obligation of state agencies to uphold all the rights of citizens under the Declaration of Rights."
Interestingly, Mugabe today (Aug 13) called for an end to violence and hostility as the country heads for elections and constitutional referendum, according to the Montreal Gazette. In an hour-long address at a national shrine, Heroes Acre, he said he wanted all parties and religious and activist groups to embrace tolerance in the coming months.
There's no indication whether that tolerance will be extended to the country's gay population.
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