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Tanzanian Leader Launches Anti-Gay Crackdown, Expects to Round Up Hundreds

The Regional Commissioner of Tanzania's largest city announced the creation of an anti-gay surveillance squad that is expected to begin a roundup as early as Monday.

In an interviewwith Dizzim TV on Monday, Paul Makonda ordered residents throughout Dar es Salaam to report gay people to a phone hotline in advance of the widespread sweeps.

"Report them to me," Makonda urged, as translated from Swahili by NPR, adding that "from next Monday we start arresting them."

Homosexual acts are illegal in Tanzania and punishable by up to 30 years in prison. As a result, gay, lesbian and transgender Tanzanians are forced to hide their sexuality.

The task force will consist of police, psychologists and officials from Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority, accordingto the Tanzanian news outlet, The Citizen. The committee is also expected to target gay residents through social media and other online forums, NBC News reported.

In a tweeton Wednesday, Makonda said more than 100 gay men had been reported by citizens.

It is not the first crackdown on the city's gay community by Makonda, an avid supporter of President John Magufuli, who has stoked anti-gay rhetoric since he was elected in 2015. As Vox reportedin 2017, "Tanzania is rapidly becoming one of the worst countries in the world for LGBTQ individuals" under Magufuli's campaign against "immoral behaviors."

The government has threatened "to prosecute or deport anyone working to protect the rights of LGBT people," Amnesty International reported. In 2017, "the justice minister suspended HIV prevention programs, funded by the U.S., that were aimed at gay men," accordingto NPR's Amy Fallon.

Prior to Magufuli's election, Fallon said, the country had a reputation for accepting homosexual and transgender residents despite the legal prohibitions.

NPR's Eyder Peralta reportedMagufuli has also widely suppressed political dissent over the last three years, including in Parliament, where leaders avoid criticizing the president.

Makonda clearly expects international backlash to his latest attack against the marginalized community. At a Monday news conference, he said while other nations may tolerate gay citizens, the laws of his country and its constitutions do not allow for it.

"As we take this stand, do not tell us about human rights," he said. "There is no right to go against creation written on any religious books. Keep your laws. Being gay is not allowed here in Dar es Salaam," he said.

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Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.