Zimbabwe court frees 2 gay group employees

Published May 27, 2010

HARARE, Zimbabwe – A Zimbabwe court Thursday freed two employees of a gay organization after six days in jail on allegations of possessing indecent material and displaying a placard seen as insulting to President Robert Mugabe, an outspoken critic of homosexuality.

The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) organization said Thursday that the two employees were assaulted by police while in custody.

Defense attorney David Hofisi said the two were also made to bend their knees into a sitting position with their arms outstretched for long periods and were struck with bottles when they weakened and fell.

Magistrate Munamate Mutevedzi on Thursday released the two on bail of $200 each until a trial set for June 10, where they will face penalties of imprisonment or a fine. Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe and most African countries.

Police allege the two employees possessed photographs of gay sex and posted a letter in their office from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown criticizing the Zimbabwean president's opposition to homosexuality.

The organization identified them as Ellen Chadehama, 34, and Ignatius Mhambi, 38 and said both were married with children.

They were arrested on Friday on allegations under censorship laws and sweeping security laws making it an offense "to undermine the authority of the president."

The U.S. former mayor's letter also commended the local organization as a champion of gay rights.

State prosecutors asked the court to deny bail.

Mutevedzi said provisions of Zimbabwe law on both allegations did not take into account the sexuality of suspected offenders. "The generality of Zimbabweans pictures of a man and a man having sex would easily be regarded as morally reprehensible," he said.

Mugabe, 86, has described same-sex partners as "lower than dogs and pigs" but arrests of gays are rare in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe 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 and human rights reforms.

Mugabe has vowed not to allow gay rights to be written into a new constitution being drafted by the coalition.

Last week in the southeast African nation of 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. Ugandan church groups have accused Western countries of exporting homosexuality to Africa under the guise of human rights. Even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have raped lesbians.

Written by ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer

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