Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Amnesty International have condemned the arrests of three Ugandan LGBT activists and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

The three – Onziema Patience, (an FTM transgender, 28), Valentine Kalende (female, age 27) and Auf (male, age 26) – were arrested on Wednesday morning by police at the 2008 HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting currently taking place in Kampala, Uganda.

While initial reports claimed that the three had forcefully burst into the conference, a statement by the IGLHRC said that they, along with other LGBT and HIV and AIDS activists, were protesting peacefully.

On 2 May, Kihumuro Apuuli, Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, stated that, “gays are one of the drivers of HIV in Uganda, but because of meagre resources we cannot direct our programmes at them at this time.”

According to the IGLHRC statement, “The SMUG activists staged a peaceful protest at the HIV Implementers meeting to protest the Minister’s statements and gross neglect on the part of the Ugandan government in responding to a growing HIV epidemic among the country’s LGBT community.

“They were arrested and detained at the Jinja Road Police Station immediately after taking the stage at the meeting, distributing leaflets and holding up small placards demanding attention to HIV vulnerability among LGBT.”

Frank Mugisha, Co-Chairperson of SMUG added that, “I am worried about my comrades who are in police custody. Today I realised how dangerous it is for us LGBTI people to express our constitutional rights.”

IGLHRC says that twenty-six years since the beginning of the epidemic, Uganda hasn’t implemented a single program to prevent transmission of HIV among men who have sex with men in the East African nation.

“The remarks made by the head of the AIDS Commission were very disturbing to members of the LGBT community,” said Kasha Jacqueline, Chairperson of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a lesbian organisation in Uganda. “If they want us to die, let them ask themselves if they wish themselves the same. Excluding us is just going to make the situation worse.”

The HIV Implementer’s Meeting is an annual event described as an opportunity for HIV program implementers to share lessons learned and best practices in the scale-up of HIV/AIDS programs. It is sponsored by UNAIDS, the World Bank, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation among others.

IGLHRC has requesting that the sponsors of the Implementers’ Meeting contact the Ugandan Government to demand the release of these activists.

“Gay men and lesbians are not ‘drivers of disease’,” said Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of IGLHRC. “Homophobia drives HIV. Silence drives HIV.”

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