HRC Blog

Unprecedented Anti-LGBT Trial Set to Begin in Uganda

This Wednesday, two LGBT Ugandans will face what local activists say is the first ever trial in Uganda for relations between members of the LGBT community.  Although Jackson Mukasa, 19, and Kim Mukisa, 24, were arrested in January under an existing colonial-era anti-sodomy law--which carries life in prison as a possible sentence--their prosecution represents the latest in an increasingly dangerous campaign of harassment, violence, and arrests following this year’s enactment of Uganda’s horrific new anti-LGBT law.  A local activist who runs a hotline for LGBT Ugandans said the following about the ongoing crisis:

“Right now this act is promoting violence.  I get the reports since I have the hotline. We sit down later with the details then categorise them into evictions, arrests and assaults.”

In February, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the “Anti-Homosexuality Act,” which includes life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality” and same-sex marriages and also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality.” “Promotion” remains scarily undefined in the bill and could encompass anything from HIV counseling to human rights advocacy.

As the bill was rushed through the Ugandan legislature late last year, violence and harassment of LGBT Ugandans looked to be increasing.  In December, more than 20 school girls were expelled from a secondary school in Iganga on charges of “lesbianism.”  The same month saw the arrest of the former head of Uganda’s national soccer team on sodomy charges, and the start of deportation procedures for a British man who had been living with his Ugandan partner who now fears imprisonment himself.

Since the bill has become law, activists and NGOs have reported dozens of cases of violence, harassment, eviction and extortion against LGBT Ugandans, and the police have even raided a U.S.-backed HIV/AIDS research and treatment facility claiming that it was “recruiting” youth into homosexuality.

Many other LGBT Ugandans have gone into hiding while some others are seeking to flee the country.  Days after the bill was signed, a Ugandan newspaper printed the names and photographs of the 200 “top homosexuals” in the country. As one gay Ugandan, who could not give his real name because he feared for his life, said “right now it’s all about survival, saving your life and being quiet.”  Recently released documents have also revealed that the government plans to have some health care workers break their vows of confidentiality in order to report on their LGBT patients.

Although Mukasa and Mukisa may be the first to go to trial, reports have surfaced that several other LGBT Ugandans are currently in prison awaiting trial for similar charges. According to the Erasing Crimes 76 blog, up to 12 people may be awaiting trial across the country for violations of anti-homosexuality laws.  More troubling news emerged from Kampala on Monday, April 28 when Reuters reported that the Ugandan legislature is considering new legislation that would bar foreign non-governmental organizations from “promoting” homosexuality or meddling in Ugandan politics.  President Museveni will stand for re-election in 2016, and in a country in which 93 percent of the public views homosexuality as “morally unacceptable,” activists fear that he will continue using anti-LGBT hatred as part of his electoral strategy.

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