Three gay rights activists arrested after demonstrating at an international conference in Uganda should not be charged, say Human Rights Watch.
Onziema Patience, Valentine Kalende, and Usaam Mukwaaya made their voices heard at the HIV/AIDS Implementers Meeting last week.
While they have now been released from jail, they are due in court on June 20th on charges of criminal trespass.
HRW reports: “co-sponsors of the Implementers Meeting later provided the activists with appropriate accreditation, the police detained one of the activists for over four hours and charged him with “forgery of documents.”
Amnesty UK’s director said last week that she considered them to be prisoners of conscience, detained for their peaceful activism.
Their protest was sparked when the head of Uganda’s AIDS commission said that gay people are driving up the number of infections in the country, but would not be targeted with prevention work.
The international meeting was organised by a group of countries and organisation, among them the US, the World Bank, the UN.
Their treatment “shows the Ugandan government’s determination to enforce silence around sexuality and HIV/AIDS,” HRW said in a letter to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Edward Kiddu Makubuya.
HRW wants the Ugandan government to drop all charges against the three and to stop future arrests and prosecution of activists working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Silence around HIV/AIDS kills,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at HRW.
“LGBT people do not ‘drive’ HIV in Uganda, but they have driven many community-based responses. They deserve recognition and inclusion, not repression and jail.
“When police silence voices defending public health, the only winner is the virus.
“Uganda’s once-praised HIV prevention efforts are giving way to prejudice and fear.”