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MSMGF condemns repeated police raids and violence targeting human rights advocates in Zimbabwe

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) strongly condemns the repeated police violence and intimidation directed at human rights advocates in Zimbabwe.

On Aug. 11, the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) were raided by an estimated 15 riot police, shortly after the launch of the group’s LGBTI Rights Violations Report 2011. The report documents cases of abuse, arbitrary detention and extortion, and makes a series of recommendations to Zimbabwean leaders and policy-makers for the protection of minority rights.

According to GALZ, 44 of its members were detained overnight at the Harare Central Police Station, assaulted, denied access to lawyers, and then released on Aug. 12 without charge. On Aug. 20, another police raid occurred at the GALZ offices, during which police threatened to confiscate pamphlets, booklets, and computers from the offices.

“These incidents violate multiple human rights obligations enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – including the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” said Dr. George Ayala, executive director of the MSMGF. “We strongly condemn the conduct of the police and register our deep concern that this violence will have a chilling effect on citizen engagement in the Constitutional Reform process currently underway.”

According to the GALZ Violations Report, intensified public attacks on LGBTI rights have been linked to the constitutional reform process, specifically connected with debate about whether or not the new constitution would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The body charged with constitutional reform -- the Constitution Select Committee, or COPAC -- has opposed the inclusion of anti-discrimination clauses for gays and lesbians, as have multiple high-level policy-makers, including President Robert Mugabe who has been outspoken in his opposition to the rights of gay and lesbian people.

“Laws and policies that reinforce and legitimize discrimination against LGBTI people not only violate human rights, they also undermine an effective HIV response,” said Othman Mellouk, co-chair of the MSMGF. “The final report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law is very clear: an effective response to HIV requires that countries support enabling legal environments, with attention to formal law, law enforcement, and access to justice. With an adult HIV prevalence rate of 14.3%, leaders in Zimbabwe cannot afford to further entrench inequality that drives HIV transmission.”

The MSMGF calls on political leaders to condemn the continued harassment of human rights defenders and calls on COPAC to encourage and promote a new Constitution that creates an environment conducive to an effective HIV response by ensuring the principles of non-discrimination, equality, and the rule of law for all.

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is an expanding network of AIDS organizations, MSM networks, and advocates committed to ensuring robust coverage of and equitable access to effective HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services tailored to the needs of gay men and other MSM. Guided by a Steering Committee of 20 members from 18 countries situated mainly in the Global South, and with administrative and fiscal support from AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), the MSMGF works to MSM health and human rights worldwide through advocacy, information exchange, knowledge production, networking, and capacity building.