Ugandan police in Kampala, Uganda – Photo: Facebook.
Human rights activists say that attacks on LGBTQ Ugandans have increased ever since elected leaders began churning up support for a revival of an anti-gay bill punishing homosexuality with life in prison and potentially the death penalty.
The bill, previously known as the “Kill the Gays” bill due to provisions that called for the death penalty for “aggravated acts of homosexuality,” was first introduced in 2009 but didn’t pass until December 2013, after being amended to replace the death penalty provision with life imprisonment. The law went into effect in February 2014, but was annulled by the country’s Constitutional Court on a technicality because not enough lawmakers had been present to hold a vote.
Earlier this month, Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo announced that the government planned to resurrect the bill, which would be expanded to punish those accused of “promoting” homosexuality, including being put to death. Lokodo claims there has been “massive recruitment” of young people into homosexuality, and that defenders of variant sexual orientations deserve to be criminalized. He said the bill would be brought up for a vote before the end of 2019.
A government spokesman has thus far continued to deny that such a plan exists.
Earlier this week, Ugandan police detained 16 men in Kyengera, a neighborhood in the capital city of Kampala, on suspicion of homosexuality, claiming they were engaged in human trafficking. According to the LGBTQ group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the men were being hosted by a human rights group on Monday when they were threatened by a mob of people.
SMUG claims that the men were initially promised “protection” by police but were ultimately arrested, detained, interrogated, and subjected to forced anal examinations under the guise of collecting “proof” of homosexuality, reports Reuters.
The practice of anal exams has previously been exposed as fraudulent, with no scientific basis for backing up the claim that such exams can prove whether a person has engaged in anal intercourse.
Police have claimed that the presence of condoms, lubricant, and pre-exposure prophylaxis in their homes is evidence that the men are having gay sex. Medical experts have previously criticized both the use of forced anal exams and evidence of HIV prevention tools as evidence that a person is engaged in sexual acts that are criminalized.
“What we are seeing recently — these continuous attacks over such a short space of time — is not normal,” Frank Mugisha, executive director of SMUG, told Reuters. “We cannot make a direct link between the minister’s statement and the attacks, but such remarks clearly help to stoke homophobic sentiments and hate crimes.”
Mugisha also denounced the use of HIV prevention tools as evidence as a violation of human rights law, demanding that the charges against the 16 men be dropped.
Since the government’s comments on the proposed revival of the anti-homosexuality bill, two transgender women were beaten while leaving a nightclub on Oct. 13, and a gay Rwandan refugee was beaten outside his office in Kampala on Oct. 20. Three gay men and a transgender women have also been killed this year in violent homophobic attacks, with the most recent incident occurring on Oct. 4.
Health experts have expressed concerns that targeting LGBTQ people will harm efforts to stop the spread of HIV, reports The Washington Post.
“Criminalizing LGBT people and other key populations is utterly incompatible with the mandates of an effective HIV response,” the International AIDS Society said in a statement. “In 2018, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, together with their partners, accounted for a majority of new HIV infections, underscoring the need for governments to work with, not against, these communities who are most vulnerable to HIV.”
LGBTQ advocates denounced the recent attacks and arrests targeting vulnerable communities.
“We are repulsed by the homophobia in our society — in particular among police who routinely and disdainfully violate our right to associate and assemble peacefully as a community,” Clare Byarugaba, the equality and non-discrimination coordinator at Chapter Four Uganda, said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”