“I was dismayed to hear the accounts of a police raid last night on a peaceful event in Kampala to celebrate Uganda Pride Week and recognize the talents and contributions of the country’s LGBTI community,” said Malac in a statement the U.S. Embassy in Uganda issued. “The fact that police reportedly beat and assaulted Ugandan citizens engaged in peaceful activities is unacceptable and deeply troubling.”
The statement comes hours after police arrested Frank Mugisha and Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, and more than a dozen others who were attending a beauty pageant at a nightclub in the country’s capital of Kampala that is located across the street from the U.S. Embassy.
Sexual Minorities Uganda, Chapter Four Uganda, the Uganda Pride Committee, Health GAP, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said in a joint statement they issued on Friday that police claimed a “gay wedding” was taking place inside the nightclub. The advocacy groups also dismissed allegations the pageant was “unlawful” because organizers did not inform the authorities before hand.
Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, who was among those arrested on Thursday, told the Washington Blade that she saw officers beating trans people and fondling their breasts and genitals. She said that police also placed trans men into male holding cells “so they could be taught a lesson.”
“Those who resisted were slapped and forced to obey orders,” Byarugaba told the Blade. “They told us to sit down like we were sheep awaiting slaughter. People’s hair was pulled and they were stepped on. Those of us who tried to speak out and make a case for others were arrested and taken to the police.”
Police released Byarugaba and the others who were arrested without charge on Friday at around 1:20 a.m. local time.
Reports indicate a person who jumped from the sixth floor of the nightclub during the raid remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
“I saw a police force that used their power and homophobia to overshadow their humanness and lead to the commitment of gross human rights violations,” Byarugaba told the Blade.
Uganda is among the dozens of 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. Health GAP Executive Director Asia Russell told the Blade on Friday during a WhatsApp interview from Kampala 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 incident adds to a growing list of reports concerning police brutality in Uganda,” said Malac in her statement. “While the United States has faced its own recent allegations of improper use of force by law enforcement officials, the fact remains that abuses committed by those sworn to uphold the law are unacceptable in any country.”
“No person should face abuse or discrimination because of who they are,” she added. “The U.S. Embassy stands with Uganda’s LGBTI community and Ugandans of all backgrounds and beliefs to defend the dignity of all citizens. We call on the Ugandan authorities to safeguard the freedoms of all Ugandans under the law.”