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Uganda LGBT Advocate Arrested for “Recruiting Into Homosexuality”

Jim Burroway

January 1st, 2013

According to information provided in a couple of Facebook postings and confirmed by Ugandan LGBT advocates, Kaweesi Joseph, a founding member of the Ugandan LGBT advocacy and support group Youth on Rock Foundation was arrested on December 30 for what is described as “acts of homosexuality and recruiting juveniles.” The circumstances behind his arrest remain unclear. Kenyan activist Denis Nzioka has confirmed that Kaweesi has been arrested by police and is in custody at Kawempe police station in a suburb north of Kampala.

The charges against Kaweesi remain unclear. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, with punishment ranging from twenty years to life, depending on how prosecutors chose to apply the law. Because other reports appear to allude to “unnatural offences,” it appears that police are looking to charge Kaweesi under Section 145 of Uganda’s Penal Code, which reads:

Any person who— (a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; (b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or (c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.

But as legal observers point out, there is no law barring “recruiting,” although the term has two distinct but often conflated meanings in the Ugandan context. Anti-gay rhetoric in Uganda has it that the only way people become gay is that they are “recruited” into homosexuality, either through “defilement” or by otherwise providing support for LGBT youth and adults. “Defilement,” which refers to rape or sexual abuse, is obviously against the law. But the fact that the term “defilement” is not being used here seems to indicate that police are using the term “recruiting” to mean providing support or services for gay people. Aside from the sheer impossibility of “recruiting” anyone into being gay, Ugandan law currently does not prohibit advocacy or providing support services for LGBT people, although the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill would outlaw all such support.

According to Deniz Nzioka at Identity Kenya:

Local activists confirmed the incident and were looking into ways to secure the release of Kaweesi. Additionally, TRF updated on their Facebook page on the same and urged members to be exercise caution.

A lawyer was in touch with Kaweesi and it was expected that he would post bail to ensure he is released.

In a more recent Facebook posting, it is reported that Kaweesi is still in police custody and will be spending his third night in jail. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) Executive Director Frank Mugisha confirms via Facebook:

Today at Police they pulled up one of the ugandan gay facebook pages as evidence,against a ugandan gay guy who has been arrested,please be careful with what you post on fb esp people in the closet.

Last week, the offices of Sexual Minorities Uganda were broken into, and several computers with their hard drives were stolen. It is not known what information was contained in those hard drives or whether that theft has led to this arrest.

Uganda’s Parliament is currently on break for the Christmas holidays. It may take up debate on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it resumes in February. Several prominent pastors, including the new Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, have called for the bill’s passage in their New Year’s addresses earlier today “to avert the recruitment of youngsters to adopt the same-sex behaviour.”

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