Although same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in the East African country, locals say the situation took a turn for the worse in 2016 following the election of President John Magufuli.
Since then, not only has there been an increase in the harassment of suspected gay people in the country, but the government has acted to deny them access to full healthcare.
The country’s Health Ministry has closed HIV-testing drop-in centers and banned the distribution of lubricant by organizations specifically serving vulnerable communities.
The government says citizens can only obtain lubricant from public hospitals, but many LGBTQ people are afraid to ask for lube at such places in case they face discrimination or personal questions.
Lubricant is regarded as an essential tool in the fight against HIV as condoms can easily rip without it.
Police have also raided meetings held by LGBTQ rights activists and health campaigners.
Suspected gay and bisexual men arrested under the country’s colonial-era law prohibiting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” are often forced to undergo “anal examinations” to find evidence they have broken the law. Such practices have no basis in science and have been criticized as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.”
Human Rights Watch’s 112-page report included anonymous interviews with 35 people who identified as LGBTQ. One, “Kim”, a gender non-conforming person, gave a graphic description of being forced to undergo an anal exam.
“These doctors did the procedure of anal tests. It was by force. The police officers were there with guns, so many of them.… We went to the maternal ward where the women go and give birth. They took this metal instrument and they stick it – they penetrate it in our [anus], and it was very, very painful.
“And then they say ‘Cough, try to cough’ while the steel is inside our [anus], and when I coughed, they were pressing the metal into me. It was very brutal and painful. They were pressing the testicles, the penis. Everything about that testing was very brutal.”
“Medard,” a 38-year-old gay man, talked about the closure of LGBTQ-friendly drop-in centers.
“Whenever I had a health problem, I could go to those centers for help or to be connected to a healthcare provider that did not discriminate, that treated me like everyone else. These days, even if I have a health problem, I don’t have a place to go where I can describe my problem, so I just keep quiet.… I would like the government of Tanzania to allow kuchus [LGBT people] access to health services. If we don’t get services, we will die.”
Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said, “The Tanzanian authorities have orchestrated a systematic attack on the rights of LGBT people, including their right to health.
“Manufactured threats around the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’ have displaced best practices and evidence-based approaches in guiding HIV policy in Tanzania.
“The Tanzanian authorities should ensure that not one more Tanzanian is arrested for being gay or trans – or for attending an HIV education session. Concrete steps forward should also include banning forced anal examinations and reforming health policies so that they are based on evidence, not prejudice.”
According to the report, the government’s crackdown on LGBTQ people began in June 2016. A local TV show interviewed a trans person, prompting a government official to accuse the program of “glorifying gayism” and forcing the TV channel to issue an apology.
Since then, other government officials have spoken out against gay people. In July 2016, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu said, “We don’t agree with the promotion of homosexuality and homosexual acts. We should do these HIV/AIDS interventions, but my goodness, to distribute lubricants for men who have sex with other men in the United Republic of Tanzania…. In fact, I ban it in the entire country.”
One of the most notorious local politicians is Dar es Salaam’s regional commissioner, Paul Makonda, who gave a 2016 speech threatening to arrest all the gay people in the country and ban any organization that “promotes homosexuality.”
Coincidentally, last Friday – just a couple of days before the HRW report was published – Makonda was slapped with a travel ban to the US.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted it was due to Makonda’s involvement with “gross violations of human rights.”
Today we designated Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Christian Makonda as ineligible to enter the U.S. for his involvement in gross violations of #humanrights. We are deeply concerned over deteriorating respect for human rights and rule of law in #Tanzania.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 31, 2020
A US state department statement said the ban came about because “[Mr Makonda has] also been implicated in oppression of the political opposition, crackdowns on freedom of expression and association, and the targeting of marginalized individuals.”