I first met Saidi W., a 20-year-old gay Tanzanian university student, in a cramped, humid room in Dar es Salaam. I sat on a mattress on the floor, cross-legged, while four young men slouched against the wall, telling me stories of the brutal treatment they endure for being gay.
In 2010, Saidi, who sometimes does sex work to make ends meet, was on the street looking for clients when a police officer posing as a client took him to a guest house and then arrested him. The officer forced him at gunpoint to call five gay friends and tell them to meet him at a bar. When they arrived, the police arrested all of them. They proceeded to undress and beat the five friends before taking them into custody. Saidi recalled, “They said, ‘We’re arresting you because you’re gays and you’re shaming us. Our country does not allow homosexuals. Our law and our religion and customs don’t allow this.’”
At the police station, Saidi and his friends were repeatedly raped by fellow detainees. When they called out to the police for help, the police said, “This is good, this is what you want.”
In order to bribe her son and his friends out of custody, Saidi’s mother had to take out a loan from a local money lender. Head held between cupped hands, Saidi said, “When I remember that situation, I want to cry.”