A State Department spokesperson on Friday said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” over the raid of a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS organization in the Ugandan capital.
“We are deeply concerned that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), was raided by Ugandan authorities on April 3, leading to the arrest of one of the facility’s employees, allegedly for conducting ‘unethical research’ and ‘recruiting homosexuals,’” said Marie Harf.
The Makerere University Walter Reed Project told the Washington Blade earlier on Friday in an e-mail that police took one person into custody at the organization’s Kampala office. The HIV/AIDS service group that receives funding under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said authorities released the individual “without charge the same day.”
“We are working with police to understand the circumstances under which this person was detained,” the organization told the Blade. “Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program. We are working directly with the patients of MUWRP to ensure there is no interruption in their care.”
Ofwono Opondo, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government, said on his Twitter page on Friday that Makerere University Walter Reed Project staffers were “training youths in homosexuality.”
The incident took place roughly six weeks after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
The White House subsequently announced it had begun a review of its relationship with the Ugandan government.
The U.S. has suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic expired on Feb. 28.
Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through PEPFAR to fight the epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.
“The MUWRP is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives,” said Harf. “The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable. The safety of health workers must be respected.”
Harf added the U.S. has “temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program.”
“This incident significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals,” she said.