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December 27, 2011

Zimbabwe Legislator Freed on Bail After Calling President Gay

by Peta Thornycroft

A legislator from Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change was released from jail Wednesday after being charged with accusing President Robert Mugabe of being gay.  She had to spend Christmas in a police cell even though she had been granted bail last week.

There was jubilation at a crowded court in Mutare in Zimbabwe’s eastern Manicaland province, when the state did not file arguments to prevent lawmaker Lynette Karenyi from being freed from jail.

She had been granted bail of $200 on December 20, but the state invoked a law, used frequently against MDC party members in recent years, which allows detention for up to seven days after bail is granted.

Karenyi’s lawyer David Tandire explained to supporters outside the court this is not the end of the legal battle.

“So she can now be released after paying bail," he said. "On 12 January that is when trial resumes.”

Karenyi is accused of undermining the authority of, or insulting, the president. She allegedly told party supporters at a rally earlier in the month that President Mugabe practiced homosexuality with a fellow member of the ZANU-PF politburo and a former president, Canaan Banana, who was jailed for two years for sodomy in 1997.

An MDC supporter outside the court Wednesday said that Karenyi was treated differently from other detainees for political reasons.

She says since Karenyi’s arrest, the lawmaker was barred visitors even though others in the prison were allowed visits. The MDC supporter says she is afraid that with elections approaching, it will be difficult for women to contest.

Homosexuality may end up being a significant issue in Zimbabwe's next elections.

The question of gay rights has been contentious in drafting a new constitution ahead of the elections, as homosexual acts are now illegal in Zimbabwe.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC party leader, has been careful to make clear that he does not support homosexual behavior but recognizes homosexuals as human beings.

President Mugabe, on the other hand, says gay people “destroy nationhood" and that allowing gay marriage as in some Western countries was “insanity."

Zimbabwe’s Law Society says a new constitution should recognize the human rights of all people.

The issue is likely to be raised again in a few weeks when lawmaker Karenyi appears for her trial on charges she accused the president of committing illegal homosexual acts.