Civic society organizations in Zimbabwe have condemned the behaviour of police officers in Harare, who continue to harass activists from the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), without bringing any charges against them.
Last week the police, who have been on a witch hunt for some gay activists that they arrested two weeks ago, raided the GALZ offices and confiscated several computers and educational publications. Although the offices are still open, they have no equipment or literature to assist in their activities.
Jeremiah Bamu from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) told SW Radio Africa that the police initially failed to produce a search warrant when they were challenged by the lawyer. It was towards the end of the day at 6:00 PM that a warrant was brought to them.
"But in the meantime they continued to search the premises. The warrant said they could search for materials that promote homosexuality so they used that to take all the computers and educational literature in the office," Bamu explained.
The police then charged the GALZ activists with operating in Zimbabwe without registering under the Private Voluntary Organizations Act (PVO). But according to Bamu, GALZ are governed under the Common Law of Zimbabwe and are not required to register as a PVO. Bamu said the warrant was therefore illegal.
This was the second police raid on GALZ offices this month. On August 11th, riot police broke through the doors and arrested 44 members who had gathered for a workshop on the draft constitution. The group had also launched their "2011 Rights Violations Report", detailing abuses against the gay community.
Some of the GALZ members said they were assaulted with baton sticks and fists during the raid, and several injured members later required medical treatment. The police also took the names and addresses of all 44 arrested members before releasing them without charge.
A "witch hunt" followed the next week as police tracked down the activists at their homes, using information they had forced them to reveal during the first raid.
Those who were found said they were taken to Harare Central for further interrogation.
GALZ have called on the police to end this "unjustified harassment" of their organisation and the gay community in Zimbabwe. They say the police do not understand that "sponsored violence and homophobia negatively sway public opinion and exposes the gay community to the increased risk of public violence".
The global rights monitor Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the Zimbabwean government to "immediately stop persecuting members of GALZ. Following the police raid on the GALZ offices, Human Rights Watch sent a letter addressed to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe.
"This latest police raid on the country's leading LGBT group shows the government's intolerance of the rights of Zimbabwe's sexual and gender minorities," said Monica Tabengwa, researcher at Human Rights Watch.
She added: "By intimidating and harassing members of GALZ, the authorities are violating their rights to freedom of expression and association."
Human Rights Watch pointed to Mugabe's record of harassing the gay community in Zimbabwe, saying he "has been at the forefront of anti-gay harassment, repeatedly using his office to insult and denigrate gay and lesbian Zimbabweans."