Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SF Talk With UK Diplomats at Demo:
Grant Gay Tanzanian Asylum

The alert about a rally today at 4 PM came too late today for me to change plans and be there, but my Gays Without Borders colleague Gary Virginia was able to attend. The protest was organized by the By Any Means Necessary chapter of Northern California, a progressive immigration and affirmative action group, which issued this demand:

We call on the UK Home Office to release Edson "Eddy" Cosmas from detention immediately. As a gay Tanzanian activist, Eddy has been a fighter for freedom, justice, immigrant and LGBTI rights and democracy in Britain and internationally.  He was known to be gay in Tanzania, where homosexuality is illegal and carries prison sentences of 25 years, and gay and lesbian activists are targeted for arrest.

The Daily Censored site provides background:

On 9th May, 2011 Edson Cosmas went to the Home Office in Croydon to submit his initial claim for asylum in Britain and to go to a screening interview. At the end of the interview, Eddy was stunned to be told that he was going to be taken into detention. He was interrogated by immigration officers for over 20 hours over 2 days, without an attorney or representative present. On May 18, 2011 the Home Office issued a ruling denying him asylum.

Details about the immediately status of Cosmas' effort to avoid deportation could not be located via Googling, I'm sorry to report.

However, in a phone conversation Gary Virginia told me that twenty primarily straight people of color, including adolescents, showed up with hand-held signs, a rainbow and pink triangle flag, call-to-action flyers, and a bull horn for an hour of picketing and an extended chat with UK diplomats.

The UK government's office in the Financial District is located in an office building with an enormous marble courtyard, and according to Gary, the chants of the protesters echoed to such a degree a security guard came out to talk to them. It was requested that the guard ask the consulate send down staffers to hear the activists' demands about Cosmas.

Two consular officials eventually came out to listen to the demonstrators' pleas that the UK immediately halt deportation proceedings against Cosmas, grant him freedom from the detention center, allow him to reapply for asylum and stay in the UK. The diplomats assured everyone that they were well aware of the case and would convey the demands to their superiors in London.

I checked the latest U.S. State Department annual human rights report's section on Tanzania and gays, and it said:

Homosexuality is illegal on the mainland and in Zanzibar. On the mainland the offense is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law in Zanzibar establishes a penalty of up to 25 years' imprisonment for men who engage in homosexual relationships and seven years for women in lesbian relationships. Since the burden of proof in such cases is significant, the law is rarely applied, and there were no reports that anyone was punished under the law during the year. In the past individuals suspected of being gay or lesbian were instead charged with loitering or prostitution. Gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons faced societal discrimination, which restricted their access to healthcare, housing, and employment.

Interesting that the law in Zanzibar, both recognizes lesbian relationships specifically and that the maximum penalty for lesbians to serve time in prison is much less than for gay men convicted of same-sex related crimes.

Many thanks to all of the folks who cared enough to take the time to deliver a loud and direct message to the UK government's outpost in San Francisco, and let's additionally extend a word of gratitude to the diplomats who got out of their suites and into the streets to hear from activists.

Stop the deportation of Eddy Cosmas!

(Photo credit for all three pix: Gays Without Borders.)

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