Gay rights group in High Court victory over seized assets

via Gay rights group in High Court victory over seized assets | SW Radio Africa by Nomalanga Moyo  January 14, 2014

Zimbabwe’s main gay rights group on Tuesday scored a court victory against the police who were ordered to return property seized during a raid in August 2012.

The raid on the Harare offices of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) came shortly after the group had published a report detailing violations against its members.

Harare police accused the group of operating without registration and of possessing material that promotes homosexuality.

They arrested and assaulted 44 members who were at the organisation’s Milton Park offices and seized computers, DVDs, pamphlets, booklets, CDs, and other documents as they searched for evidence of pornography, which they did not find.

Although the 44 were released the next day, over the following weeks police tracked them to their homes, workplaces, and in the process “outed” them, resulting in some losing their jobs, homes, or being shunned by families.

Following an unsuccessful petition to the Harare police for the return of the confiscated property, the group then took the matter to the High Court.

On Tuesday, Justice Priscilla Chigumba ruled in favour of the rights group, and ordered the police to return property.

In her ruling, the judge also said the group’s activities were not covered by the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act and as such, they are not legally required to register under that law.

“We are glad that the courts have spoken and we now wait to see whether the police will return our property as decided by the court,” Chesterfield Samba, the director of the rights group told SW Radio Africa Tuesday.

“However we think it was unnecessary for us to have to go through the courts to assert our rights to property.”

“The police have been reluctant to release our material despite the fact that they had not found any incriminating evidence against our group based on the warrant that they had at the time of the search.”

Samba said police were also arguing that returning the seized property would give the group the resources to continue to operate ‘illegally’.

“But the judge’s ruling today spells out that our group does not need to register as its work doesn’t fall under the PVO Act,” Samba said.

In the past, this piece of legislation has been used by the police and the ruling ZANU PF to stifle freedom of speech and to persecute civil rights campaigners.

Tuesday’s High Court ruling is important for the group as it is likely to influence the outcome of another case in which the group’s chairperson Martha Tholanah is charged with running an illegal organisation.

The matter is set to be heard at the Harare Magistrates’ Court on January 29th.

Homosexuality is not banned in Zimbabwe but the country’s gay community continues to face politically motivated attacks, including from the country’s President Robert Mugabe who famously labelled them “worse than dogs and pigs”.

During the 2013 constitutional outreach programme, the majority of Zimbabweans said they were opposed to gay rights being specifically enshrined in the country’s new charter, which was adopted last year May 22nd.

Rights campaigner Samba said members of the Zim gay community are attacked daily in what he says is a State-sponsored campaign, which involves political leaders and the security forces.

“Unwanted African politicians instigate attacks on vulnerable groups such as ours to further their stay in office while deflecting attention from real issues faced by their citizens such as unemployment and poverty,” Samba told SW Radio Africa.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers, representatives for the gay rights group, issued a statement following their court victory.