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Uganda raids home of 23 LGBT+ youth and charges them with COVID-19 offenses

Uganda raids home of 23 LGBT+ youth and charges them with COVID-19 offenses

  • Police and mayor use coronavirus to persecute LGBT+ youths.
The neighborhood of the Children of the Sun Foundation LGBT+ shelter in Kyengera, Uganda.

A mob including the local mayor raided an LGBT+ youth shelter in Uganda, arresting 23 people living there.

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 new COVID-19 lockdown rules.

The incident took place in Kyengera, Nsangi a town on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) says the Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF) runs the homeless shelter.

But neighbors apparently complained about the youth’s homosexuality which they believe is a bad influence on the area.

HRAPF says: ‘They involved the Mayor of Nsangi Municipality, Hajj Abdul Kiyimba who stated that such behavior could not be tolerated in the area.

‘He led the team that raided the shelter, assisted by members of the Local Defence Unit and the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces.’

The 23 people they arrested included a nurse who works at the shelter and a director of COSF.

Moreover, Human Rights Watch says it has video footage of Mayor Kiyimba berating residents for ‘homosexuality’ and beating them with a stick.

The authorities took them to the nearby Nkokonjeru Police Post. But once there, a mob gathered.

Trumped-up COVID-19 charges

Meanwhile, a HRAPF lawyer and community paralegal arrived at the shelter.

HRAPF says: ‘There was one Local Defence Unit member who informed the two that he had instructions to arrest anyone who came to the shelter. As such he put the lawyer and Community Paralegal under formal arrest.

‘After about one hour, the two were also taken to Nkokonjeru Police Post, where the officer in charge released them since the he knew them to be HRAPF lawyers. At the station, they met their clients who had been arrested.’

The authorities had also searched the shelter to find evidence of homosexuality. They seized HIV prevention drugs PrEP, two oral HIV self-testing kits and condoms.

However, police eventually settled on charges of breaching directives to stop the spread of COVID-19.

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.

Therefore the charges appear to be unfair and merely an attempt to persecute the LGBT+ youths.

If they become ill or die, Ugandan authorities are to blame

Meanwhile the police have released three of the people they arrested. They released the nurse and two others on medical grounds.

However, they have charged all 23 with ‘a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease,’ as well as ‘disobedience of lawful orders’.

And 20 of the shelter’s residents remain in custody in Kabasanda Prison. This is particularly problematic as civil society leaders are pleading with officials to decongest Uganda’s teeming prisons to fight coronavirus.

Human Rights Watch warns: ‘If any become ill or die, the Ugandan authorities will bear responsibility.’

Moreover, the COVID-19 restrictions mean it will be harder for them to get released. HRAPF wants to get them out on bail. But the courts have shut down except for ‘serious cases’ 

Furthermore, the government has also shut down public and private services except for essential services. And this does not include legal services.

Added to this, officials are only allowing cargo transport on the roads during lockdown. All this makes it hard for lawyers to see the 20 who remain in custody. Indeed, the Ministry of Works and Transport refused to give HRAPF permission to visit them.

As it stands, the shelter’s residents are due to appear back in court on 29 April to answer the charges.