Dozens of queer Ugandans finally freed on bail after police ‘witch hunt’

LGBT+ people arrested in Uganda

Thirty-nine detained LGBT+ people have been granted bail after a police raid targeted a queer shelter in Uganda, activists said Friday (4 June).

The Nansana Court of First Instance in Kampala has granted bail to 39 of the 44 detained queer Ugandans, said Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Organization Uganda.

Three had received bail on Wednesday (2 June) and two had already been released, he added on Twitter.

It was news that, for activists, brought with it both relief and indignation.

Relief that those that activists saw as wrongfully detained on dubious charges had finally been released on bail. But indignation for the stories that followed – at least 17 detainees alleged that the authorities performed invasive anal examinations on them.

This was despite how, Mugisha told Sunday Vision, the police had “assured us that they would not perform this type of examination”.

Such examinations are considered a “violation of human rights” because they “violate the right to physical integrity and freedom from torture or ill-treatment”, the Human Rights Watch, a top rights group, say.

A trial will take place 8 July.

“Our colleagues are accused of negligent acts that could spread COVID-19,” Mugisha added.

“But we are sure that the authorities are in fact trying to use the global pandemic as an excuse to punish our friends for their sexual orientation”.

The 44 had been arrested for attending a “same-sex wedding” in Nansana on 31 May and spreading “infectious disease”, police said. The attendees were not abiding by coronavirus restrictions, they claimed.

Not quite, activists rebuffed. In alarming mobile phone footage obtained by the Rainbow Railroad, an international LGBT+ rights group, it showed cops abuse the people as they were dragged into custody.

They had attended a “peaceful gathering” at an LGBT+ shelter, they added, not a wedding. Mugisha told Reuters the round-up was almost like a “witch hunt against the LGBT+ community”.

It was a raid that drew disturbing parallels to a near-identical sting in Ghana last month, where 21 queer people were arrested for taking part in an LGBT+ rights workshop. A crucial bail ruling was pushed back by judges on Friday.

This was the second known police bust of an LGBT+ shelter following a similar incident last year which saw 20 LGBT+ Ugandans arrested for allegedly disobeying COVID-19 regulations.

Once again, police pounced the shelter only for a municipal mayor to cane the group before security agents chained and march them to a police station.

While in detainment, the group spoke of the harrowing levels of abuse they faced – being beaten with iron rods, burnt with firewood and forced to “confess” their identities.

Activists have seen such sprawling arrests justified by COVID-19 guidelines as part of a new playbook of autocratic authorities exploiting the pandemic to hastily push authoritarian laws and persecute marginalised and vulnerable groups.

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