Human Rights Commission calls for release of SA lawyers arrested in Tanzania

The South African Human Rights Commission says it has noted with great concern the arrest of 13 human rights activists‚ including two South African lawyers‚ in Tanzania.

“The Commission understands that at the time of their arrest‚ these individuals were meeting to explore the possibility of mounting legal challenges to the government’s ban on drop-in centres serving key populations at risk of HIV‚ as well as the ban on water-based lubricants‚ an essential HIV prevention tool‚” said Gail Smith‚ the commission’s spokesperson.

The activists were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly promoting homosexuality.

Smith said the commission has contacted the chairperson of the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance in Tanzania in an effort to facilitate the release of the activists.

“As has been noted by numerous civil society organisations‚ it is concerning that this specific event occurred within days of African Human Rights Day‚ a day commemorated as a day of historical significance on which the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter) was brought into force on the 21st October 1986 and all State parties that ratified it‚ committed to adhere to it‚” Smith said.

The SAHRC has called on the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and the African Union to intervene and exhaust all efforts in ensuring that all the detainees released.

According to Lawyers for Human Rights‚ the activists were initially released on bail‚ but it was later revoked.

The organisation described the reason for the arrest of the activist as “disingenuous given that the Tanzanian police were in possession of a concept note and agenda for the legal consultation meeting”.

“There is no legal basis for these arrests‚ nor the subsequent granting and then bizarre revoking of bail. This appears to be an attempt to corral and intimidate human rights defender and attorneys‚ lawfully taking instructions from clients for a legal challenge. It is unacceptable and entirely contrary to Tanzania’s regional and international human rights obligations. We call on the Tanzanian authorities to immediately release all the detained activists‚ including our South African colleagues‚” said Sanja Bornman of the LHR’s Gender Equality Programme.