Responding to President Mugabe’s assurance at the Commonwealth Summit that gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell would be welcome to visit Zimbabwe, Mr. Tatchell says he hopes to take up the President’s offer early next year.
“I want a meeting with the President to urge an end to human rights abuses, and to support his call for Britain to help fund land redistribution”, said Mr. Tatchell.
“The President is wrong to suggest that myself and OutRage! are part of a British-government conspiracy to sabotage his government’s land reform programme. We agree with President Mugabe that Britain has a moral duty to help remedy the injustices of the colonial era by providing financial aid for a buy-back of white-owned farms.
“Providing President Mugabe will guarantee my immunity from arrest and agree to meet me, I will go to Zimbabwe early next year. I hope to persuade him to drop his antigay crusade and to include a ban on discrimination against homosexuals in Zimbabwe’s new constitution”, said Mr. Tatchell.
“I would gladly have afternoon tea with the President. I don’t hate him. It is his homophobic policies that are objectionable. I would much prefer Mr. Mugabe to be a friend of the gay community, instead of an enemy.
“A calm, reasoned meeting with the President might help remedy his misunderstandings about gay people and encourage him to adopt a more enlightened policy on gay issues.
“I am prepared to forgive and forget, providing Mr. Mugabe starts respecting the human rights of all Zimbweans. He must take tough action to end the use of torture, censorship, detention without trial, and the suppression of strikes and peaceful protests.
“Despite our disagreement on human rights issues, I support President Mugabe’s request that Britain help fund a land reform programme, including a buy-back of white-owned farms. But this funding must be conditional on the Zimbabwe government ending human rights abuses and stamping out corruption.
“There need to be guarantees that land reform will benefit impoverished rural communities, and not be squandered in corrupt handouts to Mr. Mugabe’s cronies”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Mr. Mugabe made his offer that Tatchell would be welcome to visit Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth Summit in Durban on Friday, 12th November, as reported in the London newspaper, The Independent, on 13th November.
At a preliminary court hearing on Friday, 19th November, Mr. Tatchell and two OutRage! colleagues, Chris Morris and Alastair Williams, pleaded “not guilty” to public disorder charges arising from the citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe on 30th October, when they ambushed the President’s car, forcing it to halt and allowing Mr. Tatchell to open the car door and grab Mugabe by the arm.
Tatchell told the bewildered President: “President Mugabe, you are under arrest for torture. Torture is a crime under international law.”
The three OutRage! defendants who have been dubbed the “Mugabe Three” are expected to stand trial early next year.
The citizen’s arrest was the third year in a row that Mr. Tatchell has confronted President Mugabe over gay human rights abuses.
Last year, he got into the ante-room of the President’s apartment at the St. James’s Court / Crown Plaza Hotel in London, before being stopped by security guards. He was sent away with the promise that the President would meet him the following day: but Mugabe then cried off, pleading a busy schedule.
In 1998, Mr. Tatchell breached security at the Africa at 40 conference in London’s Central Hall Westminster, challenging Mugabe face-to-face as he was taking tea with other African leaders and the conference organisers. Ejected by Special Branch officers, he was threatened with arrest, but never charged.