Gay and lesbian activists attended Uganda’s first gay pride parade at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens in Kampala in 2012. File picture: Rachel Adams/EPA
Gay and lesbian activists attended Uganda’s first gay pride parade at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens in Kampala in 2012. File picture: Rachel Adams/EPA

Court orders release of LGBT+ Ugandans arrested for 'risking spreading coronavirus'

By Alice McCool, Thomson Reuters Foundation Time of article published May 18, 2020

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Kampala - A Ugandan

court on Monday ordered the release of 19 LGBT+ people jailed

for almost 50 days for risking spreading the new coronavirus

after public prosecutors withdrew the charges.

The 13 gay men, two bisexual men and four transgender women

were arrested on March 29 when police raided an LGBT+ shelter on

the outskirts of Kampala. Police said they were violating social

distancing rules banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Human rights groups said authorities were using the

restrictions to target sexual minorities in the east African

nation, where gay sex carries a life sentence and homophobia and

the persecution of LGBT+ people are widespread.

The ruling by the magistrate's court said the Director of

Public Prosecutions (DPP) had withdrawn the charge of "doing a

neglect act likely to spread infection of disease" against the

group and ordered that they be released from prison.

"It is the right decision for the DPP to withdraw the

charges since it was a targeted arrest with trumped up charges,"

said Patricia Kimera, a lawyer from the Human Rights Awareness

and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) who is representing the group.

Kimera said HRAPF had asked the DPP to dismiss the case as

the charges were unfounded. The ban on gatherings pertained to

public places and not shelters, she said.

Officials from the DPP's office were not immediately

available for comment on why the charges were dropped.

Lawyers will serve the release order to the prison today,

said Kimera, adding that she was concerned about the health of

some members of group after visiting them in prison on Friday.

She said they looked weak and some reported symptoms of

malaria and typhoid. Some are HIV-positive and did not have

their medication, she added.

The March arrests are the latest in a series of incidents

targeting sexual minorities in Uganda.

In October last year, a minister proposed introducing the

death penalty for gay sex. The government denied it had any

plans to do so after condemnation from international donors.

Attacks on LGBT+ people rose after the minister's comments,

including the arrest of activists from their office and

residence, and a raid on a gay-friendly bar that led to the

arrest of 67 people.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UNAIDS said

there had been reports of murders, arrests and violence against

LGBT+ people in countries including Puerto Rico, Egypt, Uganda,

Cameroon and South Korea.

"Arbitrary and discriminatory arrests and harassment of

LGBTI people must stop," said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie

Byanyima in a statement marking International Day against

Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on Sunday.

"The Covid-19 crisis has exposed and exacerbated the

inequality, violence and abuse that LGBTI people face every day.

We need to break the silence against these draconian laws, which

only serve to further marginalize people."

Reuters

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