Uganda urged to free 19 queer men arrested, whipped and interrogated under ‘bogus’ coronavirus charges
Human rights activists are calling on Uganda to immediately release 19 LGBT+ people who were detained, whipped and interrogated under “bogus” coronavirus charges.
Harrowing footage has emerged of a March 29 raid which led to the arrest of 23 Ugandan men in an LGBT+ shelter, the Children of the Sun Foundation.
Four men were released on medical grounds, while the remaining 19 were were charged with committing “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” and “disobedience of lawful orders”.
On the day of the arrests, the local mayor was filmed asking the men who their parents were and hitting one of them on the hands with a huge cane. The men were also made to face the camera to reveal their faces.
Uganda is using coronavirus as a ‘bogus pretext’ to harass queer people.
Activists say the arrests are part of a slew of targeted attacks by law enforcement against the community, and the Human Rights Watch has accused authorities of using the pandemic as a “bogus pretext” to harass LGBT+ people.
“Prosecuting authorities should drop charges and release 19 Ugandan youth who have committed no crime,” said Mausi Segun, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch, on Monday (May 11).
“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.”
The group raised alarm at the fact that the commissioner general of prisons has prevented lawyers from visiting the prisoners or communicating by phone or video link. The men have also been denied access to lifesaving HIV medication.
“In any circumstance this arbitrary detention is an injustice, and with COVID-19 it is an imminent health risk,” Segun said.
“The Director of Public Prosecutions should withdraw the charges against those arrested at the Children of the Sun Foundation shelter and release them immediately.”
UN group condemns arrests.
Several other human rights groups have joined the calls for action, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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UNAIDS has also condemned the arrests, saying that it was “deeply concerned” by reports that the potential transmission of coronavirus is being used as an excuse to target marginalised and vulnerable populations.
“Our experience in the HIV epidemic is that criminalisation of virus transmission leads to significant human rights violations, undermines the response and is not based on science,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The ability to prove actual transmission from one person to another, as well as necessary intent, is almost impossible and fails to meet rule of law requirements for criminalisation.”
The 19 detainees still have not been granted bail. On the date of a scheduled bail hearing last month, none of the detainees were transported from prison and the magistrate and prosecutor did not even attend the courtroom.
No alternative arrangements have been made with their lawyers for another bail hearing.