HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s LGBT community is celebrating a court victory in which authorities sought to shut down the country’s main LGBT rights advocacy group.
Harare Magistrate Donald Ndirowei on Wednesday dismissed a judicial complaint against the group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) that accused it of running an “unregistered” organization.
Prosecutors pursued the charges against GALZ chair, Martha Tholanah, following an August 2012 incident in which police raided, harassing members of the group, and seized equipment and material at the organization’s Harare office.
They claimed that Tholanah unlawfully took part in the management of GALZ by and “engaging in gays and lesbians activities” in violation of the Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Act.
Magistrate Ndirowei ruled that GALZ was not obliged to register under the PVO Act and that the State could not prosecute the organization; a High Court order issued last month exempting GALZ from registering is still binding.
The High Court Judge Justice Chigumba said the seizure was unlawful and contravened the rights of GALZ further stating that it is not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organizations Act.
The Magistrate said he could not be seen interfering with a ruling of a superior court.
On Jan. 14, 2014, the High Court ordered the State to return the GALZ property seized in 2012, but authorities have still refused to do so.
“I am just happy that this is over. There is hope in the justice system, and I hope this prevails,” Tholanah told LGBTQ Nation. “Special salute to members of GALZ who have continuously suffered a lot of harassment, but have remained steadfast in claiming their birthright as citizens of Zimbabwe.”
Last weekend, during his 90th birthday party, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe ranted against LGBT people: “We don’t accept homosexuality here. God made men and women so they can bear children.”
Mugabe has continually attacked LGBT people since 1995, saying they are “worse than dogs and pigs” “unnatural” and “degrading human dignity.”
Male homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, and in 2006 the country’s government amended the law which now states that sodomy is any “act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act,” thereby criminalizing holding hands, hugging, or kissing, punishments range up to 10 year imprisonment.