Forty-four people in Uganda have been arrested and allegedly subjected to police abuse and torture in a raid on an LGBTI+ youth shelter in Kampala.
According to a statement by Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), officers raided the Happy Family Youth Uganda shelter on Monday while a party was being held on the premises.
They arrested 44 people who were attending the party and detained them at Nansana Police Station and Lubigi Police Post.
The organisation noted that statements made by police spokesperson Luke Owoyesigire in the media “suggest that the raid was prompted by reports from locals that a gay wedding was taking place at that venue.”
Forty-two of those arrested were arraigned in the Nansana Magistrates Court on Tuesday. They were officially charged with “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease contrary to section 171 of the Penal Code Act.”
They all pleaded not guilty and were held by police pending a bail hearing. HRAPF alleged that “at least 17 persons who were in detention at Nansana Police Station were subjected to anal examinations without their consent.”
These kinds of exams have been discredited by medical professionals as inconclusive and condemned as a form of torture by international human rights groups.
HRAPF suggested that the charges were a cover to persecute members of the LGBTI+ community. “The authorities seem not to charge such persons with carnal knowledge against the order of nature perhaps due to the absence of evidence to support such a charge but use charges such as being a common nuisance and now the COVID-19 related restrictions to persecute LGBT persons,” said HRAPF .
The group noted that “with the Sexual Offences Bill recently passed, this may be a harbinger of worse things to come.” Approved by lawmakers in early May, the new bill further criminalises same-sex sexual acts that are already illegal under the country’s colonial-era penal code.
HRAPF and other partners are assisting those arrested with legal support and funds for bail.
The latest raid echoes a similar incident on 29 March last year in which 19 individuals were arrested at the Children of the Sun Foundation’s shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth in the town of Kyengera.
They were jailed for 49 days, also ostensibly for violating the country’s coronavirus lockdown regulations but were ultimately awarded damages by the High Court of Uganda for having their rights violated.