Asia Russell, executive director of Health GAP, an HIV/AIDS service organization, told the Washington Blade from Kampala that eyewitnesses said officers entered a nightclub in which a Uganda Pride beauty pageant was taking place at around 11 p.m. local time.
Russell said that up to 300 people were inside the nightclub — which is across the street from the U.S. Embassy — when the raid began.
She told the Blade that police “were assaulting people” with their hands and canes.
Russell said officers were “extremely brutal with” the gender non-conforming and trans women they singled out.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan LGBT activist, wrote on her Twitter page that police pulled off trans women’s hair and braids and forced trans men to remove their clothes. She said that a “community queen” who was arrested was “severely” beaten.
Police pulled off hair/braids from transwoman, transmen forced to undress by inmates, community queen arrested n severly beaten, To much
— BombasticKasha (@KashaJacqueline) August 5, 2016
Russell told the Blade that eyewitnesses said the police sexually assaulted those who were inside the nightclub. She said they confiscated their cell phones and threatened to send the pictures they took of them to the media.
Russell also told the Blade that a trans woman who jumped from the fourth floor of the nightclub during the raid remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
“Police behavior throughout this unlawful raid was brutal,” said Russell.
Frank Mugisha and Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, wrote on their Twitter pages that they were among those who were taken into custody. Mugisha said in another tweet that everyone who was arrested at the nightclub has been released.
After a few hours of detention,I have been set free,every one is safe. Thankyou all my friends for the support & solidarity @Prideuganda2016
— Dr. Frank Mugisha (@frankmugisha) August 4, 2016
The arrests took place during Uganda Pride’s week-long series of events.
Reports indicate that police raided the nightclub because Uganda Pride organizers were holding an “unlawful” event. Nabagesera and other activists rejected this claim.
“The violent raid and arrest of LGBTQ leaders attending a Uganda Pride event is an affront to the universal freedom to peaceably assemble and to the basic dignity of LGBTQ Ugandans,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. “Ugandan authorities must stop targeting and persecuting LGBTQ people. The victims of the raid deserve an apology from their government and police force. The world is watching.”
Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Constitutional Court of Uganda later struck down the controversial law that sparked outrage among LGBT activists around the world.
A report that Sexual Minorities Uganda released earlier this year indicates anti-LGBT persecution increased in Uganda after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Russell told the Blade that “police brutality” against Ugandan human rights advocates, civil society organizations, independent journalists, academics and Museveni’s opponents has increased over the last month.
“This act doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said.
The Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment.