NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ten men arrested for being involved in homosexual activity in Zanzibar were released on bail on Thursday, said a senior police official and their lawyer, adding that the incident was still being investigated and the men could be charged in the future.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and its Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar. Male offenders can face up to 25 years in jail on the tropical island which draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to its palm-fringed beaches annually.
The men were arrested late on Saturday when police raided a party at a beach resort on Zanzibar’s main island Unguja following a tip-off that a gay marriage was taking place.
“We have been investigating this case as it was reported to us, but we have so far found no evidence of unlawful acts so we are releasing all the men,” said Suleiman Hassan, Unguja South’s regional police commander.
“We are however continuing our investigation and if we find evidence, they could be rearrested and charged,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Unguja.
The arrests come just days after a senior government official in Tanzania’s main city Dar es Salaam called on the public to report the names of suspected homosexual people for arrest - sparking fear and panic within the LGBT+ community.
The planned anti-gay campaign prompted the European Union to recall its envoy in Tanzania as it reviews relations with the east African nation, and also sparked the United States to warn its citizens to be cautious of Tanzania’s laws on homosexuality.
A lawyer representing the 10 men confirmed they had been released without charges, but said that case was far from over.
“I have dealt with many such cases and given the high level of homophobia in the country, I don’t think this will be the end for my clients,” said the lawyer, who did not wish to disclose his name fearing for his own security.
“They are likely to be harassed and re-arrested.”
Tanzania has had a reputation for being more tolerant than its neighbor Uganda but, since President John Magufuli came to power three years ago, campaigners say organizations supporting gay people have been shut down and activists have been arrested.
In June last year, Magufuli said that “even cows” disapprove of homosexuality.
Rights group Amnesty International called on authorities to end persecution of the LGBT+ community.
“They have been released on bail but they remain in a very precarious situation as do many other members of the LGBT community,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy director for east Africa.
“The government must come out and condemn the harassment of people perceived to be from a sexual minority and they must forbid their arrests.”
(This story has been refilled to remove the word ‘federal’ in para 15)
Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org