LGBT people jailed after ‘targeted’ coronavirus raid can’t access vital HIV drugs, activists say

HIV medication Uganda

In Uganda, LGBT+ people who were arrested in a “targeted” raid under the guise of coronavirus prevention are being kept in custody without HIV medication, activists said.

Fourteen gay men, two bisexual men and four transgender women were arrested under lockdown measures on March 29 when police raided a shelter on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital Kampala. At least four of the 20 people arrested are living with HIV.

Police charged all 20 with defying social distancing rules, but activists have accused authorities of using the coronavirus pandemic to target LGBT+ minorities.

Patricia Kimera, a lawyer who is defending the group with the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, claimed that the four who are living with HIV are being denied access to antiretroviral drugs, and that all 20 face the risk of contracting coronavirus while in prison.

“We call upon the immediate release of the 20 arrested,” Kimera said, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It causes a threat to them amidst the COVID-19 epidemic.

It is a violation of their right to health, especially those who are on antiretroviral drugs and cannot access them.

A spokesperson for the Ugandan prison service said: “The rights can come when we save lives. We have to save our people – it’s not about law, it’s about life.”

Police said that the LGBT+ people in the shelter were “congesting in a school-like-dormitory setting within a small house”, defying rules recently put in place to stop groups of more than 10 people congregating.

They have been remanded in custody until April 29, as all of the courts are closed.

Uganda denies 20 arrested were targeted for being LGBT.

Deputy police spokesperson Patrick Onyango denied at the time of the arrest that the people were targeted for being LGBT+, saying: “We still have offences of unnatural sex in our law books.

“We would charge them with that law, but we are charging them with those counts as you can see.”

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni told the public to stay home for 32 days starting March 22 to curb the spread of COVID-19. There have been 14 confirmed cases in the country so far.

LGBT+ people in Uganda face extreme violence, including from law enforcement, and gay sex is illegal.

Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister Simon Lokodo announced plans in October 2019 month to re-table a “Kill the Gays” bill, which was first floated several years ago but was not enacted.