Uganda ordered to release imprisoned gay men
Authorities in Uganda have been using the Covid-19 pandemic as another opportunity to persecute LGBTQ people, arresting gay men for allegedly disobeying social distancing requirements.
The group of 20 were recently taken into custody when police raided an LGBTQ shelter on the outskirts of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Police classified the group’s accommodation arrangements as a gathering. Under the Covid-19 restrictions in force at that time, gatherings of more than 10 people were prohibited. However, LGBTQ activists allege that the arrests were another example of targeted persecution of LGBTQ people.
Thomson Reuters reports that after the men have been held in jail for nearly 50 days, a Ugandan court has ordered their release.
Targeting sexual health services
Another recent example of Uganda’s persecution of LGBTQ people was the arrest of 16 sexual health workers – all arrested on allegations of gay sex. According to reporting by The Guardian, the men – all aged between 22 and 35 – were taken into custody earlier in recent weeks, having been arrested at the office of the sexual health charity where they all worked and lived.
The men all worked for the charity Let’s Walk Uganda. They were initially taken into what the police described as protective custody, after a crowd yelling homophobic slurs surrounded their office. Police later said the group was detained after they were alerted to “illegal activities” by the community.
A police spokesman said that officers had found lubricants, condoms and anti-retroviral drugs at the charity, and had conducted medical examinations on all 16 men arrested.
“Based on the medical examination report, it was established that the suspects were involved in sexual acts punishable under the penal code…” said police spokesman, Patrick Onyango. The authorities are reportedly considering the case before any court appearance. If charged and convicted, the men face life imprisonment.
Kill The Gays
In recent years, Uganda has been a fairly horrific place to be if you’re queer. It was five years ago that the government tried to introduce a bill that was described as Kill The Gays. That legislation failed on a technicality, but there’s now a renewed push to introduce laws that will make homosexual acts punishable by death.
In 2014, a court found that the Kill The Gays bill was unconstitutional.
“We are putting our act together. Just give us a bit of time…” said James Nsaba Buturo – one of the MPs pushing for the new legislation. “We need a law that defends and protects our values.”
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda – a largely conservative Christian country. The current punishment is life imprisonment. According to reporting by the Guardian, hate crimes against queer people – including physical and sexual assault, blackmail and extortion – are common in Uganda, but most victims are too fearful to go to the police. Tabloid newspapers routinely “out” people believed to be gay.
Existing laws are also used to discriminate against LGBTQ people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services. Many flee to neighbouring countries where discrimination – though still acute – is less severe.
After initially indicating it might support the move, the government has backed away from supporting any change to the law after major aid donors expressed their concerns. However, some government ministers – such as Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s state minister for ethics and integrity – are publicly backing the bill on the grounds that targets the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.
Why is it illegal to be gay in Uganda?
The criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity is a hang-over from British colonial rule, however – following independence – that criminalisation was enshrined in Uganda’s penal code in 1950.
The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual activity is life imprisonment.
There are no protections against discrimination based on sexuality, and there is no legal recognition of same-sex couples.
A 2005 amendment to the constitution strengthened the position against recognition of same-sex couples by explicitly prohibiting same-sex marriage.
How you can help LGBTQ people in Uganda
Find ways to help publicise the stories and experiences of LGBTQ people in Uganda.
Use your networks to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQ people in Uganda.
Lobby your political representatives to raise concerns regarding Uganda’s criminalisation of same-sex sexual activities through any available diplomatic channels.