SA lawyers get bail, but still no charges

Mail & Guardian - - News - Carl Col­li­son

More than a week af­ter their ar­rest in Tan­za­nia for “the pro­mo­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity”, hu­man rights lawyers have fi­nally been granted bail — al­though they have yet to be of­fi­cially charged.

Two of those ar­rested are South African, in­clud­ing Si­bongile Ndashe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ini­tia­tive for Strate­gic Lit­i­ga­tion in Africa (Isla).

The ar­rests took place in Dar es Salaam last Tues­day when the Tan­za­nian po­lice raided a le­gal con­sul­ta­tion meet­ing, con­vened by Isla and Com­mu­nity Health Ser­vices and Ad­vo­cacy (Ch­esa).

Isla and Ch­esa said their meet­ing was “in or­der to get more in­struc­tions and ev­i­dence on a case that was to be before a court”. Hu­man Rights Watch said the aim of the meet­ing was to “ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of mount­ing le­gal chal­lenges to the govern­ment’s ban on dropin cen­tres serv­ing key pop­u­la­tions at risk of HIV, as well as the ban on im­por­ta­tion of wa­ter-based lu­bri­cants, an es­sen­tial HIV pre­ven­tion tool.”

Isla and Ch­esa said the “mis­char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of a le­gal con­sul­ta­tion — where lawyers and their clients were dis­cussing a very spe­cific case to be re­ferred to the court — is un­for­tu­nate”.

The po­lice had a copy of the con­cept note and the agenda of the con­sul­ta­tion, they said.

In a state­ment Hu­man Rights Watch added: “While it is true that ‘car­nal knowl­edge against the or­der of na­ture’ is crim­i­nalised in Tan­za­nia un­der a colo­nial-era law, by no mea­sure of the imag­i­na­tion is it a crime to hold a meet­ing.

“In fact, the meet­ing ... was not even about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity,” said Hu­man Rights Watch.

A day af­ter the ar­rest, Lazaro Mam­bosasa, Dar es Salaam’s head of po­lice, said the “crim­i­nals” had vi­o­lated Tan­za­nian law.

Bail was re­voked last Friday, with the stated in­ten­tion of “start­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion afresh”.

Nu­mer­ous at­tempts at se­cur­ing bail had also been de­nied, with­out any rea­sons be­ing fur­nished.

One of the group’s lawyers, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on con­di­tion of anonymity, con­firmed that, al­though bail had fi­nally been granted, no charge has been laid against the group.

“We are wait­ing for the di­rec­tor of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions to say whether they will be charged or de­ported,” the lawyer said.

He added that the group was “very happy, of course, but frus­trated be­cause they still do not know what the of­fence is they are be­ing held for”.

Quest for jus­tice: South Africans de­mand the re­lease of 13 ac­tivists ar­rested in Tan­za­nia for pro­mot­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

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