Tanzanian officials order physical exams of 10 alleged gays

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania (AP) - Tanzanian authorities are carrying out physical examinations on 10 men suspected of homosexual activity in Zanzibar, according to police.

A wave of arrests of gays in Tanzania is feared after a senior official urged the public to report suspected homosexuals to authorities. Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and can bring a sentence of up 30 years.

The examinations are taking place Friday to see if there are any signs of same-sex relations among the men, who were arrested last week on suspicion of celebrating a gay marriage at a resort hotel, police chief of the south region of Zanzibar, Suleiman Hassan, told The Associated Press.

"We acted on a tip-off from a good citizen leading them to abort their party during the weekend and then police made a quick arrest," said Hassan. After being held for several days, the men have been released pending the investigations, he said.

Last week Paul Makonda, the administrative chief of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city, urged citizens to report any suspected homosexuals. He said a task force would be established to seek out and punish homosexuals and prostitutes.

Days later Tanzania's foreign ministry said Makonda's statement did not represent government policy but many gays in this East African country say they are frightened.

Amnesty International warned against the examinations of the men who were arrested.

"We now fear these men may be subjected to forced anal examination, the government's method of choice for 'proving' same-sex sexual activity among men," said Seif Magango, Amnesty International's East Africa Deputy Director.

"This appalling attack on Tanzanian people simply exercising their human rights shows the danger of inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric at senior levels of government," said Magango. "This is a shocking blow following the Tanzanian government's assurance that no-one would be targeted and arrested because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity."

There's also been a significant diplomatic reaction.

The US State Department on Friday said it is "deeply concerned over escalating attacks and legislative actions by the government of Tanzania that violate civil liberties and human rights, creating an atmosphere of violence, intimidation, and discrimination. We are troubled by the continued arrests and harassment of marginalized persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and others who seek to exercise their rights to freedom of speech, association and assembly. Legislation is being used to restrict civil liberties for all."

The European Union has recalled its ambassador to Tanzania, citing "the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation" in Tanzania. The EU will be conducting a broad review of its relations with Tanzania, said the statement emailed to AP.

The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania warned American citizens in the country and those planning travel to Tanzania about the possible crackdown against LGBT people. The embassy also urged its citizens to check their social media profiles and "remove or protect images and language that may run afoul of Tanzanian laws regarding homosexual practices and explicit sexual activity."

Since coming to power in 2015, President John Magufuli has made several statements against the rights of sexual minorities.

Another development this week highlighted repressive measures in Tanzania. Two journalists working for the Committee to Protect Journalists were detained for five hours after they began investigating the case of a Tanzanian journalist who is missing. The two journalists were released, but their detention attracted considerable international attention.

"It is now abundantly clear to anyone who followed the latest developments that Tanzanian journalists work in a climate of fear and intimidation," said CPJ executive director Joel Simon, on the organization's website . We call on the government of Tanzania to allow journalists to work freely and to allow those who defend their rights to access the country without interference."

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Meldrum reported from Johannesburg