Tanzania has deported three South African lawyers after they were accused of promoting homosexuality. They were among 13 people arrested on October 17 for taking part in a meeting to discuss challenging a law stopping private health clinics from providing HIV and Aids services.
However, Sibongile Ndashe says they had no right to do so, and has accused authorities in Dar es Salaam of holding her and her colleagues "hostage".
Lazaro Mambosasa, chief of Dar es Salaam police, told reporters after the lawyers initial arrests that "they were promoting homosexuality", which is a crime in Tanzania.
The arrests followed a September speech by Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla, who vowed in front of parliament to "fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country," AFP news agency reports.
But Ms Ndashe, who was deported along with two colleagues from South Africa's Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) on Friday, told a press conference there was no crime they could be charged with, as the meeting was not about homosexuality.
Human rights lawyer Sibongile Ndashe held a press briefing on Saturday after her deportation from Tanzania.
She described how she and 12 other human rights activists' had gone through a terrifying ordeal, having to battle legally with the Tanzanian police.
Ndashe said they were being held illegally. "We were held hostage at a police station. No one could say why we were there, there was no investigation. No one could say what was happening." She said the South African police tried to get information on their arrest but the Tanzanians refused to divulge anything.
Ndashe said to pursue the spurious charges against the 13 human rights activists, Tanzanian police then turned to the courts to request that the accused undergo an anal exam. "The police went to court and applied for an order to do the anal examination on all of us. That application was dismissed because they could not specify an offence. On Wednesday they went back, and that application was dismissed again."
She said after they were released on bail on Thursday, their lawyers were told they would be deported without giving any reasons. "When we got to immigration, we still wanted to know what were the reasons for our deportation because the director of public prosecution had said they are not going to prosecute. We were not told. In fact, when we got to immigration, Immigration asked for police to release a letter to explain why we were being deported. The letter came but we were not allowed to see it."She said they had to make their own arrangement to come back to South Africa. "We will use the law to respond. We intend to sue for what happened,'' she said. Ndashe thanked South Africans who had contributed to her release adding that every bit counted
Melanie Nathan, a South African lawyer, who is Executive Director of the US based African Human Rights Coalition commented: "
It is unconscionable and pure stupidity when governments mischaracterize critical health related discussions and initiatives. To attack and criminalize organizations, individuals and events who seek to educate on issues that impact particular communities is rooted in myth and cowardly fear of the unknown. To rob people of their freedom because of their desire to provide education is abhorrent. The meeting was not about homosexuality and in any event to accuse anyone in such a situation of "promoting homosexuality" is a lie.
Its impossible to promote homosexuality. One either is a homosexual or not. One cannot assume a sexual orientation based on a discussion. One is born with their innate sexuality. These discussions help people cope and understand their differences- and can never be perceived as promotional. Its an excuse to criminalize those who one fears. Its an excuse to discriminate.
Notwithstanding what the meeting was about this is an opportunity to create awareness: It is important to note that South Africa is the one country on the African continent where all people are equal under the constitution and where discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity is not only outlawed, but all people are considered equal. In Tanzania homosexuality is criminalized in a manner that only serves to honor the Colonialists and the draconian penal codes they brought along with them. Tanzania must change to reflect back on precolonial times when such did not matter."