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Tanzania government announces plan for mass arrests of LGBT citizens

Gay residents in the African nation of Tanzania are fearing for their lives amid a government crackdown of LGBT citizens. The gay pride flags fly at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Gay and transgender people in Tanzania are fearing for their lives and going into hiding after a senior government official this week asked the public to report suspected homosexuals, so they can face arrest.

What are they doing?

Paul Makonda, regional commissioner for Tanzania’s main city of Dar es Salaam, announced the government plans to identify and arrest the “many homosexuals” in the east African nation. Their punishment could include as much as 30 years in jail, Reuters reported.

Members of the LGBT community told Reuters they are afraid to leave their homes. Activists also said the government is already raiding homes and arresting gay people.

Attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have increased since President John Magufili was elected in 2015.

African countries have some of the strictest laws in the world against homosexuality, according to Reuters. Punishments can range from imprisonment to death.

Members of the gay community can regularly face persecution, discrimination, and exploitation.

“They are routinely abused, blackmailed, assaulted by mobs, or raped by police or vigilantes. Many are unable to get jobs due to their sexual identity — forcing them to sell sex through social media sites,” Reuters reported.

Organizations that support gays are being shut down and activists are facing arrest. The government has also suspended HIV/AIDS prevention programs for gay men, the report said.

“Since Monday, I have left my place and have been moving here and there. I am always looking over my shoulder in case they coming for me,” Nathan, 24, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, reportedly told the news outlet.

“There’s so much tension within the gay community at the moment," he added. "Not just in Dar, but all over the country. We are really scared. We don’t know what to do and where to go.”

What is the history?

Tanzania has traditionally taken a more tolerant stance with the gay community than, for example, Uganda. But since Magufuli took office three years ago, protections for the gay community have eroded.

Magufuli has gone as far as saying that “even cows” disapprove of homosexuality, according to the report.

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