Fear and panic as police shut down Uganda’s only LGBTIQ film festival

Police in Uganda have illegally raided and shut down the second annual edition of the Queer Kampala International Film Festival (QueerKIFF) on the weekend.

The three-day event, which first took place last year, is the only LGBTIQ film festival in the country, where it is illegal to be gay. It aims to celebrate the diversity of the community by screening local and international queer films.

In order to avoid being targeted by authorities, the organisers have been forced to host the event at ‘secret’ venues. The first day of this year’s festival, on Friday, was dubbed a success.

“Queer Kampala International Film Festival started off to a great start in a cool new artsy space and a giant screen that was made by the team,” said the organisers on Facebook after the opening.

One participant added: “Day 1 of the Queerkiff went down great. The films were great and with good content to look up to. Thank you to contributing film makers. Loved the opening and keep up the good work.”

However, on Saturday, which was meant to be QueerKIFF’s second day, the situation took a dramatic and distressing turn. The police got wind of the event and were able to ascertain the location of the screenings.

In a Facebook post, the organisers announced that the authorities had taken action against them and that police, reportedly wielding AK-47 rifles, had shut down the festival.

“The LGBT Film Festival in Uganda which started yesterday has been raided by the Uganda police. The organizers [advise] all our members not to go to any of the secret venues…”

They also appeared to suggest that members of the LGBTIQ community “who don’t want the festival” had been the ones who had “informed police about our secret venues”.

On Sunday, the organisers wrote: “10-December, International Human rights day. There is nothing to celebrate here in Kampala, Our Festival was raided by the police on the second day, organizing a Queer Film Festival is considered criminal activity . Today was meant to be the closing of QueerKIFF 2017.”

It is unclear if anyone was arrested in the raid and if the organisers and audience members are all safe.

QueerKIFF almost didn’t get off the ground in the first place this year as the organisers were turned away by venues that refused to host the event. After an international appeal for funds, they were able to secure a warehouse at the last minute, which was outfitted with screening equipment.

The draconian crackdown is another devastating blow to the LGBTIQ community in Uganda. In August, the organisers of Pride Uganda were forced to cancel this year’s event after they were threatened with arrest by the police.

The 2016 Pride festival descended into chaos and violence when the police raided a Pride pageant. They arrested and beat people, leading to the hospitalisation of one victim who threw themselves out of a fourth floor window while fleeing.

Colonial-era legislation criminalises gay sex in Uganda, allowing the courts to imprison anyone found guilty of homosexuality for life. This has been used by the government and the police to justify restricting LGBTIQ freedoms of expression, speech and association.

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