Paul Semugoma

Paul Semugoma

South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs has ignored a court order to immediately release an LGBTI activist who could be deported back to Uganda.

Dr Paul Semugoma, a Ugandan medical doctor and an internationally recognised HIV and LGBTI advocate, has been stranded at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo international airport for more than two days, where he faces imminent deportation to either Zimbabwe or Uganda.

Semugoma has been in South Africa since 2011 on a visitor’s permit and has applied for an Exceptional Skills Permit to live here. He’s been allowed to travel in and out of the country while working as a volunteer with Anova Health’s Health4Men project.

On Monday, after returning from an HIV prevention meeting in Zimbabwe, he was denied entry into the country by immigration officials and has since been stuck at the airport and threatened with deportation.

He has no clothes to change into and has been provided food inconsistently, claim fellow activists.

Yesterday afternoon, advocate Yusuf Saloojee together with Webber Wentzel, on behalf of a coalition of civil society organisations, urgently applied for Semugoma’s release at the South Gauteng High Court.

The judge issued a court order compelling the Minister of Home Affairs to immediately release Semugoma, an order which his department has so far failed to comply with.

“We went to the airport yesterday and we were refused to be allowed to see him. We were told by immigration officials that they have not received instructions from the department to release him,” said Steve Letsike, Civil Society Chairperson of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC). “In fact, we were told before we left that they have received instructions not to release him.”

It’s believed that Home Affairs intends to challenge the ruling but has reportedly not yet lodged an appeal while Semugoma remains in limbo.

“This is unacceptable. The department is entitled to appeal this matter, however not to disrespect the rule of law. The Director General is aware of this matter and knows the implications about the situation in Uganda for human rights defenders, and they have now politicised this matter,” said Letsike.

“They have failed to comply within their own regulations of issuing Paul with a permit. We will challenge this again in court. Civil society organisations need to mobilise and build solidarity around injustices of the immigration system.”

The activist coalition has warned that Semugoma could be in danger if returned to Uganda, where President Museveni is about sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

The groups have called on the Department of Home Affairs to observe the rule of law and immediately release Semugoma and to cooperate and speedily process his application for an Exceptional Skills Permit.

The demand for Semugoma’s release is being backed by the SANAC Civil Society Sector, the Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27, the Anova Health Institute, Sonke Gender Justice and the Coalition of African Lesbians.

The groups plan to hold an impromptu demonstration outside the Johannesburg High Court today in protest against Semugoma’s continued detention.

UPDATE: The Department of Home Affairs bowed to activists’ demands and released Semugoma, allowing him to stay in South Africa. Read the details here.

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