Peter Tatchell, Still on the Front Line

It looks as if Robert Mugabe will die in his bed rather than in the prison cell where he so richly deserves to eke out his days. During his time as dictator of Zimbabwe, he has had just one intimation of the fear he has inspired in so many others.

On 30 October 1999, while Mugabe was visiting London, two men jumped in front of his car. A third stood behind, so the driver could not reverse away. A thin, neatly dressed Australian opened the passenger door. He held up his left hand, palm forward, to show that he was not carrying a gun. He laid his right hand on the tyrant’s shoulder and said: “Robert Mugabe, you are under arrest on charges of torture. I am now summoning the police.” Mugabe’s eyes popped, his jaw dropped and the blood drained from his face.

The police came, sure enough. But they showed their pinched priorities by arresting Peter Tatchell and his fellow gay activists. The moment is worth savouring, nevertheless. For a few seconds, Tatchell had succeeded in giving Mugabe a taste of how a just world would treat him.

Tatchell turns 60 this week. January 2012 also marks the 45th anniversary of his career as a human rights and gay rights activist. These labels have been so devalued I need to elaborate. Every respectable person claims to support human rights. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding’s Mr Darcy was no longer the wealthy landowner of Jane Austen’s imagination but a wealthy human rights lawyer.
Carry on reading

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