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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Earring arrests in Namibia
President Sam Nujoma
Nujoma said he had nothing to do with the arrests
By Frauke Jansen in Windhoek

The Namibian Government has distanced itself from the actions of members of the paramilitary unit, the Special Field Force (SFF), who last week rounded up men wearing earrings, because they were supposedly gay.


Government does not condone... harassment of individual citizens

Government statement
"The president had at no time issued orders in any shape or form for SFF members to act against anyone wearing earrings or any other piercing," the Ministry of Information said in a statement.

The daily newspaper, The Namibian, reported last week that SFF members had started arresting men wearing earrings in Katutura, a suburb of the capital, Windhoek.

The report said that the SFF members said they were acting on an order by the president to clamp down on suspected criminals and gays.

But the Ministry of Information said: "The government does not condone human rights violations or harassment of individual citizens."

Forced removal

One of the members of the paramilitary group was quoted as saying that they ordered the men to take their earrings off or would use force to take them from their ears if they did not comply.

city skyline
The men were arrested on the streets of Windhoek
"Where did you see men wearing earrings in our Oshiwambo culture. These things never happened before independence," the SFF member was quoted as saying, referring to a Namibian ethnic group.

A reporter, speaking to some of the men who had been rounded up, was also arrested and only let go after the editor had phoned the police's head of public relations to complain.

The SFF commander Sacharia Asheela who arrived at the scene ordered the SFF members to hand back the earrings.

He said to his men: "I told you not to assault or touch anybody. Who told you to take these men's earrings? It should not be repeated again."

Punsihment

Disciplinary action has now been instituted against the SFF members.

Over the past months President Sam Nujoma and home affairs minister Jerry Ekandjo have repeatedly criticised homosexuality saying it was a practice that was "un-Namibian" and would not be tolerated in the country.

In one speech President Nujoma said that the police should arrest homosexuals.

Nevertheless Mr Ekandjo was prepared to face Ian Swartz, spokesman for the Namibian gay and lesbian society, in a national radio discussion programme this week.

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | Africa
Gays 'fearful' in Namibia
02 Oct 00 | Africa
Namibia gay rights row
23 Oct 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Fighting for gay rights in Zimbabwe
12 Aug 98 | Crossing Continents
Homosexual and hated in Zimbabwe
03 Nov 99 | Africa
Gay doctor flees Uganda
31 Jan 99 | Africa
Gay rights win in South Africa
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