Human Rights Watch says that the recent raid of a gay rights workshop in Uganda is illegal and an assault on freedom of assembly.
Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, personally shut down the workshop hosted by Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) at an Entebbe hotel on Tuesday.
Lokodo claimed that the group’s activities were against “tradition,” closed the workshop, and dispersed the 35 participants.
Human Right Watch pointed out that there is no law in Uganda permitting the shutting down of peaceful meetings, including those held by LGBT people.
“It’s illegal for a Ugandan government minister to shut down a human rights meeting just because he doesn’t like the subject matter,” said Maria Burnett, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“This is just the latest step in a general decline in civil liberties in Uganda, where those who express divergent viewpoints are increasingly silenced – in clear violation of the law.”
Lokodo, accompanied by a police escort, appeared at the gathering in the hotel and declared it illegal after inspecting workshop materials.
Participants told Human Right Watch that Lokodo threatened to arrest organiser Kasha Jacqueline Nabagasera, a prominent LGBT rights activist and winner of the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, after she challenged the minister’s order to disband the meeting.
Nabagasera fled the hotel and is currently in a safe location.
The raid comes a week after Ugandan MP David Bahati reintroduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill would criminalise the work of national and international activists and organisations working for the defence and promotion of human rights in Uganda by criminalising the “promotion of homosexuality.”
A day after the bill was reintroduced, Lokodo put out a statement on behalf of the government. He said the bill “does not form part of the government’s legislative programme and it does not enjoy the support of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.… Whilst the government of Uganda does not support this bill, it is required under our constitution to facilitate this debate. The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the government’s support for this bill.”
“Uganda’s government is right to oppose the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but sadly the honourable Lokodo’s actions in raiding an NGO meeting speak louder than his words,” Burnett said.
While Bahati has said he intends to remove a provision calling for the death penalty for some consensual homosexual acts, the text of the proposed bill has not changed.