Gay people flee Tanzania as police break into their homes & make arrests

The waterfront of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The economic capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, has been the epicenter of the country's crackdown on LGBTQ people. Wikimedia Commons/David Stanley

Gay people are fleeing Tanzania in fear of police as the government cracks down on homosexuality.

Joseph Omar, a 28-year-old gay man from Tanzania, talked to a reporter with Religious News Service as he was crossing the border into Kenya at the town of Isebania.

“I’m fearing for my life — they don’t want us to stay here,” he said.

“The gay community is very scared because police are breaking into homes of suspected homosexuals and arresting them. I don’t want to be the next person. I’m going into hiding.”

Related: Tanzanian men face grisly forced anal exams to prove they are straight

Omar said he had to plead with authorities to get into Kenya and tell them that he didn’t choose to be gay.

“I didn’t choose to be gay, and God knows,” he said. “I will go back to my country when the situation calms. I don’t want to die or be jailed.”

Homosexuality is a felony in Kenya, a country where 96% of people believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society, according to a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey.

But the situation in Kenya isn’t as bad as in Tanzania. Since John Magufuli, a devout Catholic, got elected president in 2015, arrests of LGBTQ people have increased.

Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es Salaam, is an ally of Magufuli. Last month, he called on residents to turn in people they suspect might be gay.

“Give me their names,” he said. “My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday.”

Ten people were arrested at what police called a gay wedding in Zanzibar and were subjected to anal exams, a procedure that human rights groups denounce as torture.

“We are worried about both those who are known to the community and those who are closeted,” an LGBTQ activist told CNN. Their name was not published out of fear for their safety.

But they are planning to stay in Tanzania.

“I have to help people who are in hiding,” they said.

“The government needs to stop this harassment. We are, after all, all citizens of Tanzania.”

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