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19 LGBT+ youths stuck in Uganda prison after magistrate and prosecutor didn’t turn up to court

19 LGBT+ youths stuck in Uganda prison after magistrate and prosecutor didn’t turn up to court

  • Local officials abused COVID-19 powers to arrest the youths, who are now in prison putting them at heightened risk of getting the virus.
The neighborhood of the Children of the Sun Foundation LGBT+ shelter in Kyengera, Uganda.

Uganda is facing fresh demands to release 19 young people arrested in a raid on an LGBT+ homeless shelter.

The demand comes from the UN and Human Rights Watch after Ugandan courts failed to hold a bail hearing for the youths.

The group has not had access to lawyers. Moreover, it is not clear if HIV positive youths in the group are getting the medication they need. If they aren’t, that may damage their immune system, putting them at even greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

A mob including the local mayor and police arrested 23 people from the youth shelter on 29 March.

The raid took place in Kyengera, Nsangi a town on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), which serves LGBT+ young people, runs the shelter.

Neighbors taunted the residents and the authorities beat two of them after their arrest.

Initially police planned to charge them with homosexuality, which carries a maximum life prison term in Uganda. But instead they charged them with offenses under Uganda’s COVID-19 lockdown rules.

However they appear to have deliberately trumped up the charges.

The coronavirus rules do prevent public gatherings of more than 10 people. However the homeless youth were indoors in their shelter. And there are no limits on the number of people who can live in a private home or shelter.

‘It is not a crime to be homeless and live in a shelter’

Police have released four of the people since the raid, but the remaining 19 are still in prison.

The detainees have not been granted bail.

A bail hearing was due on 28 April and lawyers attended court to represent the youths. However, the magistrate and prosecutor failed to show up. Moreover, police didn’t transport the detainees from prison to court.

As a result, the The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity have called for their release. Moreover, UNAIDS has also condemned the arrests.

Meanwhile the commissioner general of prisons has prevented lawyers from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum from visiting them or communicating by phone or video link.

Mausi Segun, is Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Segun said the youths have ‘committed no crime’ and added: 

‘It is not a crime to be homeless and live in a shelter, and the ongoing detention of the shelter residents is arbitrary, abusive, and contrary to public health.’

Three of the youths are HIV positive. And because lawyers can’t contact them, nobody knows if they are getting the antiretroviral drugs they need.

Without them, their immune systems are at risk, making it more likely they will catch COVID-19. Moreover, prisons in general are high risk places for spreading coronavirus.

Segun added: ‘In any circumstance this arbitrary detention is an injustice. With Covid-19 it is an imminent health risk. The director of public prosecutions should withdraw the charges against those arrested at the Children of the Sun Foundation shelter and release them immediately.’ 

Coronavirus leading to LGBT+ attacks around the world

The arrests were an early example of how LGBT+ people’s rights may be violated during the pandemic.

But they are not an isolated case.

In the Philippines, local officials forced LGBT+ people to dance and kiss as a humiliating punishment for breaking curfew.

Furthermore in Panama, the fact the coronavirus lockdown is based on gender has seen police harass trans people.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Poland have used the pandemic to push forward a law that would attack LGBT+ people in education and likens gay people to pedophiles.

And in Hungary, the government is abusing COVID-19 emergency powers to permanently stop trans people changing gender.

As a result, the UN has ordered countries not to use the pandemic to undermine rights or attack LGBT+ people.