October 29, 2019 at 11:25 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Uganda government urged to drop charges against LGBTQ activists
Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade
Civil society groups have demanded the Ugandan government drop charges against 16 LGBTQ activists who were arrested on Oct. 21, 2019. (Image public domain)

Civil society groups in Uganda have demanded their country’s government drop charges against 16 LGBTQ activists who were arrested last week.

Sexual Minorities Uganda, Chapter Four Uganda and Health GAP in a press release say the activists “were initially promised ‘protection’ by police” officers on Oct. 21 after they were “threatened by a mob” in the Kyengera neighborhood of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The press release indicates the activists “were then arrested, detained and subjected to forced anal examinations — an act of torture that is designed to humiliate and terrify under the guise of collecting ‘proof of homosexuality.’”

The groups in their press release say the activists have been “charged with carnal knowledge against the order of nature” under the Ugandan penal code and human trafficking.

“Police have stated that the presence of condoms, lubricant and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in their homes is ‘evidence’ that supports the charge of having gay sex,” reads the press release, which also notes Ugandan Health Minister Jane Aceng has criticized the use of condoms and other HIV prevention tools as evidence in court proceedings.

The arrests took place 11 days after Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said his government planned to reintroduce a bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of homosexuality. Ofwono Opondo, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government, said the so-called “Kill the Gays” measure would not be reintroduced.

The groups’ press release also notes the Oct. 21 arrests coincide with “multiple reported cases of violence” that include four murders “motivated by homophobia and transphobia” and the “brutal beating” of a lesbian woman by a doctor who is a member of the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council. Brian Wasswa, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist, died on Oct. 5 after he was attacked with a garden hoe at his home in Jinja, a city on Lake Victoria that is roughly two hours east of Kampala.

“Government is not only failing to protect us — they are also violating our rights as Ugandans with sham criminal charges designed to silence us and forced anal exams to humiliate and torture us,” said Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha in the press release. “Our communities are demanding that the charges against these 16 defendants be immediately dropped.”

Chapter Four Uganda Equality and Non-Discrimination Coordinator Clare Byarugaba added the activists “are repulsed by the homophobia in our society — in particular among police who routinely and disdainfully violate our right to associate and assemble peacefully as a community.”

“Enough is enough,” said Byarugaba.

A State Department official on Tuesday told the Washington Blade “promoting the protection and advancement of human rights — including the rights of LGBTI persons — has long been and remains the policy of the United States.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The Trump administration earlier this year announced an initiative that urges country to decriminalize homosexuality, even though the White House continues to face criticism over its overall foreign policy and its anti-LGBTQ positions in the U.S.

“The United States firmly opposes criminalization, abuse and violence against LGBTI persons,” the State Department official told the Blade. “We stand with Uganda’s LGBTI community and defend the dignity of all Ugandans.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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