Homeless LGBT+ Ugandans finally released after being held for almost 50 days on ‘unlawful’ coronavirus charges


19 LGBT+ Ugandans who were arrested, whipped and interrogated under “bogus” coronavirus charges have been released following sustained pressure from human rights groups.

Their release was ordered by a Ugandan court on Monday (May 18) after public prosecutors were forced to withdraw the charges. They had spent almost 50 days in jail.

The men were arrested in a March 29 raid on an LGBT+ shelter, the Children of the Sun Foundation. They were charged with committing “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” and “disobedience of lawful orders”.

Harrowing footage later showed the men being whipped, interrogated and publicly shamed by the local mayor after their arrest. They were also denied access to lawyers.

International activists quickly raised alarm, saying that authorities were using the coronavirus restrictions as a pretext to target sexual minorities.

The detainees were represented by the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which argued that the charges were clearly unfounded as the ban on gatherings pertained to public places and not shelters.

The arrests were formerly condemned by UNAIDS, while Human Rights Watch called the ongoing detention “arbitrary, abusive, and contrary to public health.”

As their detention continued there was some concern for the men’s physical health, as they appeared weak and some reported symptoms of malaria and typhoid. Several of the men are HIV positive and they were not allowed HIV medication while in prison.

Around 23 LGBT+ people in Uganda were whipped by officials before being chained and walked to the police station, disturbing footage shows. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Disturbing footage showed the men being whipped by officials before being put in chains (Screen capture via YouTube)

With pressure building on authorities, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) finally agreed to withdraw the charges and ordered their immediate release. Efforts are now underway to get the men home.

“It is the right decision for the DPP to withdraw the charges since it was a targeted arrest with trumped up charges,” Patricia Kimera, HRAPF lawyer, told Reuters.

In a statement to PinkNews, Edwin Sesange, director of the African Equality Foundation, thanked those who were involved in the litigation process.

“This case was solely based on hate towards the LGBTQ community not the quest for justice and the protection of the entire community,” he said.

“We appeal to the Uganda government to move from persecution, torture, discrimination and prosecution of LGBTQ Ugandans to offering freedom, protection, inclusion, equality, integration and Empowerment of LGBTQ  Ugandan.

“Uganda is an independent country therefore it should stop relying on outdated colonial laws to persecute innocent LGBTQ Ugandans.”