Harrowing footage shows Ugandan police arresting 127 people at gay-friendly bar for ‘smoking’

Uganda gay arrests

Police and soldiers stormed a gay-friendly bar in Uganda reportedly this morning, arresting around 120 patrons for “frequenting a smoking place”.

RAM Bar, in the capital city’s central district, has for years served as an underground gay-friendly space for Kampala’s citizens.

In a country snarled by homophobic legislation and a deepening public divide on LGBT+ rights, it was a rare sanctuary every Sunday night.

Around 127 Ugandans at gay-friendly bar allegedly arrested for ‘smoking’.

The bar is quietly slotted in the city’s business district, bracketed by other clubs and consultancy firms.

But bar-goers spilled onto Hannington Road, surrounded by armed police officers, army soldiers and Local Defence Unit officials in the early hours, according to local media.

Footage showed patrons cowering on the floor, desperately trying to cover their faces by clutching backpacks while law enforcement circle them.

Activists on the ground told PinkNews that the incident took place at around 2am Monday morning.

While authorities claimed that narcotics were seized at the bar during the operation. Narcotics are prohibited under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act 2019.

Patrick Onyango, spokesperson for the Kampala Metropolitan Police, said they were not aware of any LGBT+ patrons, according to the BBC.

The 127 people arrested were taking to the Central Police Station, activists said. Two were released, while 125 appeared in court today.

The activist also alleged to PinkNews that those still held in police custody are “hungry and helpless”.

RAM bar, with its grass-thatched roof and flashing fluorescent disco floor lights, served the city every day. But for six hours each Sunday, queer locals flock to the pub.

One advocate described the watering hole as a “popular outing place where LGBTI persons of all races peacefully gather for partying”.

Anti-LGBT violence has rocketed in Uganda.

Such a space has been a lifeline for the LGBT+ Ugandans, who have been pelted by violence from state police and the public for years.

But in the last year, the community has seen activists be bludgeoned with machetes and 16 arrested in Kampala after an anti-gay mob surrounded their office in a sharp spike in anti-LGBT+ violence.

Moreover, ministers asserted an alleged plan to bring back the ‘Kill the Gays law. A measure that would have enforced the death penalty on gay sex.

LGBT+ refugees from South Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo walking to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya to demand protection (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty)

While presidential spokespeople have since clarified there are “no plans” for such a bill, the homophobic playbook employed by the government has left queer Ugandans fearing for their lives.

Often rejected by their families, queer Ugandans are often forced to flee and seek refuge in neighbouring Kenya.

Even in refuge camps dotted along the dusty outskirts of the country, however, they encounter discrimination from local law enforcement and aid workers, some have claimed.

One refugee, who wished to remain anonymous, detailed to PinkNews that “LGBTI person are being abused daily” by fellow refugees, camp organisers and workers.

The issue of being undocumented, they said, has left many trapped: “We are facing a lot of difficulties and insecurities as LGBTIQ refugees”, they added.