Zimbabwe: Gay Activist Arrested, Faces Prison Under Sodomy Law
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission,
June 23, 1998
Keith Goddard, Programs Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and one of the
country's most prominent gay activists, has been arrested under that country's sodomy law.
Goddard faces up to seven years' imprisonment. The arrest represents the culmination of a
mounting campaign of repression against lesbians and gays--a campaign led by the regime of
President Robert Mugabe.
According to Zimbabwean activists, Goddard's arrest came after a year of blackmail
attempts. In May 1997, he began receiving letters from a man named Siphephele Vuma. The
letters at first expressed affection; later letters turned to threats against Goddard, for
allegedly having had sexual relations with Vuma. Goddard categorically denies that such
relations ever occurred, and states he only met the man once, when Vuma briefly visited
the offices of GALZ. In a letter in January 1998, Vuma raised the ante, demanding goods
and cash to the value of USD $2000. At this point, Goddard reported the threat to police
in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.
No action was taken until May 1, when Goddard was visited by police from the Central
Intelligence Department, an undercover division dealing with "vice" offenses.
Ultimately called to the police station, Goddard was told that he would be charged with
having sodomized Vuma at gunpoint.
On 12 June, Goddard and Vuma were both arraigned--Vuma charged with extortion, and
Goddard with sodomy. Vuma initially admitted the charge of extortion. However, the
presiding judge changed the plea to not guilty, and encouraged Vuma to state that he had
demanded $2000 as compensation for the "crime" of which he was a
Vuma faces trial on July 27. Goddard is free pending trial; no trial date has yet been
Zimbabwean law criminalizes "unlawful and intentional sexual relations per anum
between human males." The charge that Goddard committed the act forcibly could raise
the sentence to as much as seven years in prison.
According to GALZ, the case against Goddard "is clearly part of an overall
strategy to discredit GALZ and its members." It comes after GALZ was accepted by the
World Council of Churches (WCC) as a participant in consultations surrounding the WCC's
General Assembly, to take place in Harare later this year. Since then, President Mugabe
has renewed attacks on gays and lesbians, calling them "beasts,"
"perverts," and "worse than dogs and pigs."
Mugabe's professed repugnance toward homosexuality first became a political issue in
1995, when his government barred GALZ from maintaining an information booth at the
Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Mugabe proclaimed that homosexuals "have absolutely
no rights whatever." He has since used the issue to shore up declining support for
his party, the Zimbabwean African National Union-Popular Front, which maintains a
stranglehold on the country's political life. In speeches, he has urged members of the
party's Women's League to tie up homosexuals and take them forcibly to the police.
Recently, the state-run media have also joined the campaign against GALZ. An article in
the Harare Sunday Mail on 24 May--citing, among other items, a lesbian-only party which
GALZ had organized--accused the organization of running a "brothel," and of
promoting sex with minors. (GALZ restricts membership to adults over 18.) According to
GALZ members, one reporter from the Sunday Mail made sexual advances toward female members
of the organization. Another reporter obtained an interview with GALZ members by
pretending to be a representative of Amnesty International.
According to Scott Long, Advocacy Coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian
Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), "Goddard's arrest is a flagrant assault on
political freedom in Zimbabwe. It is no isolated incident, but part of a
state-orchestrated campaign to eradicate the organization and intimidate any dissident
"The fact that Goddard was arrested after attempting to defend himself against
extortion," Long added, "shows clearly that the sodomy law is an invitation to
blackmail--and that the authorities will do nothing to protect the real victims."
According to Zackie Achmat, convenor of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian
Equality (NCGALE) in neighboring South Africa, "There is mounting discontent and
protest among the majority of Zimbabweans with the Mugabe regime. It is clear that Mugabe
would not survive a democratic election. He needs a scapegoat to distract attention from
his own misdeeds: and he has chosen GALZ.
"We call on every democrat throughout the world to support GALZ in its struggle
for equality and freedom of association, and to support Keith Goddard as he faces these
unjust charges," Achmat said.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the National Coalition
for Gay and Lesbian Equality call on Zimbabwean authorities immediately to drop all
charges against Keith Goddard, and to cease their campaign of defamation and intimidation
against Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. Their actions violate the letter and spirit of
numerous provisions of international law, including those of the African Charter on Human
and Peoples' Rights, which maintains--inter alia--that "Every individual shall be
entitled to equal protection of the law"; that "No one may be arbitrarily
deprived" of respect for life and personal integrity; and that "In particular,
no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained." The sustained attacks of the Mugabe
government and the state-controlled press against GALZ also threaten the rights to free
expression and free association guaranteed in Articles 9 and 10 of that Charter, as well
as the guarantee against discrimination contained in Article 2. IGLHRC and NCGALE call for
letters, stressing these points, to be sent to:
The Hon. Dumiso Dabengwa
Minister of Home Affairs
Private Bag 7703
The Hon Patrick Chinamasa
PO Box 7714
Research and Advocacy Director, IGLHRC
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
1360 Mission St, Ste 200
San Francisco, CA 94103
Check out our website at http://www.iglhrc.org/
IGLHRC's mission is to protect and advance the human rights of all people and
communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender
identity or HIV status. Our constituency, therefore, includes people who are lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgendered, and anyone living with HIV or AIDS. A US-based non-profit,
non-governmental organization, IGLHRC responds to such human rights violations around the
world through documentation, advocacy, coalition building, public education, and technical
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