HARARE, Zimbabwe – Police have arrested two members of a gay organization after they posted a letter in their office from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown criticizing the Zimbabwean president's opposition to homosexuality, their lawyer said Monday.
Ellen Chadehama, 34, and Ingatius Mhambi, 38, are employees of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) organization. They were arrested on allegations under Zimbabwe's censorship laws on Friday.
Attorney David Hofisi said the two will remain in jail until Wednesday — Tuesday is a public holiday in Zimbabwe — after police seized the letter from the organization's suburban offices.
Police said the letter, mounted on an office wall, "undermined the authority of the president," an offense under sweeping security laws carrying a penalty of a fine or brief imprisonment.
Police raided the offices of the gay and HIV/AIDS awareness group Friday, removing documents and files.
Hofisi said he was not allowed to visit the two staff members in jail over the weekend.
"We asked the police to release them to us so we can come with them to court on Wednesday, but they have denied that," he said.
The U.S. mayor's letter also commended the local organization as a champion of gay rights.
President Robert Mugabe has described same-sex partners as "lower than dogs and pigs" but arrests of gays are rare in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, 86, had been in power for three decades since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain. Last year, he entered a power-sharing coalition government with his longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai following a disputed 2008 election. However, the fragile partnership has been fraught with disagreements, including allegations that Mugabe's party has not done enough to promote democratic reforms.
Human rights organizations have called for Mugabe to face trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of political violence, vote-rigging and human rights violations by state agents over the past decade.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. Last week in Malawi, a judge sentenced a gay couple to a maximum 14 years in prison with hard labor after the men celebrated their engagement with a party at a hotel. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill under which homosexuals could be sentenced to life in prison and "repeat offenders" could be executed. Even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have raped lesbians.