Tanzania says anti-gay squads are not government policy

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A gay man with HIV stands in a clinic in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2016Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Stigma against same-sex relationships is widespread in Tanzania

Tanzania's government has said that a call by a local official to create a surveillance squad to track down homosexuals "does not represent" official policy.

Last week, Paul Makonda, the head of the administration for the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, said the squad would start work on Monday.

The announcement was criticised by rights groups.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania under a colonial-era law.

Mr Makonda said last week that he wanted his team, made up of officials from the Tanzania Communications Authority, the police and media practitioners, to scrutinise social media in order to track down and arrest people in same-sex relationships.

'Against moral values'

"Give me their names," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them next Monday."

He justified it by saying that homosexuality "tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians".

Amnesty International responded by saying that the idea, which "only serves to incite hatred". should be "immediately abandoned".

It told them to "remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity".

The European Union has recalled its ambassador regarding "the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in the country".

'Not government policy'

But there was no specific mention of the treatment of homosexuals.

Tanzania's government, through a statement from the ministry of foreign affairs, said that "Mr Makonda was only airing his personal opinion", not government policy.

It added that the government would "continue to respect and uphold all human rights as provided for in the country's constitution".

But in recent years, there have been a number of measures that appear to have been targeted at homosexuals.

Tanzania also deported three South African lawyers after they were accused of promoting homosexuality.

They were among 13 people arrested for taking part in a meeting to discuss challenging a law stopping private health clinics from providing HIV and Aids services.