Last week, 10 men in Tanzania who were arrested for allegedly participating in a same-sex wedding ceremony on the island of Zanzibar were subjected to anal examinations to prove their homosexuality, reports The Associated Press.
The anal examinations, which purport to discover evidence of homosexual activity, are not based on medical science but on a now-discredited, centuries-old theory that the shape of the anus can tell whether a man has engaged in receptive anal sex.
In reality, human rights advocates say the procedure’s primary aim is to torture or humiliate men suspected of being gay.
The ten men were arrested on Nov. 3 at a party at Pongwe beach resort, and were arrested on suspicion of conducting a gay marriage ceremony because police found them sitting in pairs, two by two, according to Amnesty International. No official charges were brought against the men, but human rights campaigners warned last week that they were likely to be subjected to anal exams last Friday.
“It is mind-boggling that the mere act of sitting in a pair can assume criminal proportions. The police clearly have no grounds to file charges against these men in court,” Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement.
“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,” Magango added, referring to a statement made by the Tanzanian government on Nov. 4 in an attempt to distance itself from comments by Paul Makonda, the governor of Dar es Salaam, and one of the chief anti-gay government officials behind crackdowns against homosexuality.
Makonda announced in October that he was creating a 17-member “surveillance squad” consisting of police, lawyers, and doctors dedicated to hunting down and exposing the names and identities of LGBTQ people. The surveillance squad would carry out its work by performing searches of social media to “out” LGBTQ people and by encouraging citizens to inform on their LGBTQ neighbors to authorities.
Within one day of the announcement of the surveillance squad, authorities reportedly received 5,763 messages from the public, with more than 100 names, according to The Guardian. Some reports have even suggested that the government could begin prosecuting heterosexuals who “follow” or “friend” LGBTQ individuals on social media as accessories in helping LGBTQ people break the law.
In Tanzania, homosexuality and same-sex activity — and even masturbation — are criminalized and can be punished with sentences ranging from 30 years to life imprisonment. The Tanzanian government is currently in the middle of a crackdown that started in 2015 with the election of President John Magufuli, a right-wing ideologue with a history of attacking political opponents, and has ramped up during the past few months.
Hamisi Kigwangalla, the country’s deputy health minister, has previously voiced support for using the scientifically-discredited anal exams to “prove” someone is having anal sex, and defended threats to publish a list of the names of known LGBTQ people. According to the BBC, the Tanzanian health ministry has also closed down more than 40 drop-in HIV/AIDS clinics for allegedly promoting (or not doing enough to discourage) same-sex relations.
The UN Committee against Torture has said that anal examinations “have no medical justification,” and human rights advocates argue that they violate international law. There have been reports of anal exams being used to prosecute gay men in Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Lebanon, and Turkmenistan. Last year, Tunisian authorities officially banned the procedure, but did not agree to repeal its law criminalizing homosexuality.