Last edited: February 14, 2005

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 "victim."

Vuma faces trial on July 27. Goddard is free pending trial; no trial date has yet been set.

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 political expression."

"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
Causeway, Harare
Fax: 263-4-726716

The Hon Patrick Chinamasa
Corner House
PO Box 7714
Causeway, Harare
Fax: 263-4-700223

Sydney Levy
Research and Advocacy Director, IGLHRC
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
1360 Mission St, Ste 200
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: +1-415-255-8680
Fax: +1-415-255-8662
Check out our website at

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 assistance.

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