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Police raid of gay rights workshop in Uganda has 'no basis in law'

Activists slam authorities for stopping meeting by LGBT campaigners in Kampala
Hassan Shire Sheikh, director of EHAHRDP, condemns Ugandan police

Activists around the world have condemned a raid by Ugandan police on a gay rights workshop in Kampala, warning harrassment of LGBT people by authorities is becoming worryingly common.

Police interrupted the meeting at the Esella Country Hotel on the outskirts of the African capital on Monday (18 June) and questioned people in attendance who included activists from Canada, Kenya and Rwanda.

The workshop was intended to boost the local gay community's abilities to report rights abuses.

In a joint statement, workshop organizers the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) and the Front Line Defenders(FL), Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Amnesty International (AI) and the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) condemned the raid as an 'illegitimate infringement' of their human rights.

The incident comes just four months after another LGBT workshop was shut down by the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Lokodo Simon in February, 2012.

'This arbitrary closure confirms a pattern of behaviour by the authorities, that LGBTI people, and those working on LGBTI issues, will not be afforded the same protections as other people in this country,' said Hassan Shire Sheikh, executive director of EHAHRDP.

Uniformed and plain clothed police reportedly sealed off all entrances to the hotel, effectively holding people in the hotel hostage for over three hours, and also forced their way into some of the activists' rooms.

Two EHAHRDP staff members and an intern, as well as three workshop participants, were detained in a police bus for about one hour.

One of the detained participants, Jane Wothaya, communications officer with Gay Kenya Trust, described the ordeal.

She said: 'While walking back to the room with other colleagues, three police officers ran after me and grabbed me, mishandling me as they walked me back towards the front of the hotel.

'I felt intimidated...[and] was not informed why I was being arrested, or why I was picked among a group of other persons.'

Police ordered EHAHRDP to discontinue the event and ask them for approval before holding more workshops in the future.

'The police advice to EHAHRDP has no basis whatsoever in law,' said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

'In this instance, the police have exceeded their authority. This continued harassment and intimidation of human rights activists must stop and the police need to start adhering to the laws they are supposed to protect and enforce.'

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and last week Catholic bishops in Uganda called for a revival of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposes for the execution of gays in the African country.

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