Uganda Pride Raided By Police

Jim Burroway

August 5th, 2016

These are tweets Pride Uganda, Kasha Jaqueline’s Kuchu Times, Frank Mugisha, and other Ugandan LGBT activists describing a raid on a Uganda Pride event as it happened Thursday night:

Uganda Pride has been held annually for several years, although it is never widely publicized. In most years, it has been held in secret, and publicized only after the events have taken place. Pride participants are usually told where the event is located very soon before it is scheduled to begin.

But there is one catch to that secrecy. The ruling party of Uganda’s increasingly dictatorial President Yoweri Museveni pushed the Public Order Management Act (PDF: 473KB/20 pages) through Parliament in 2013. The law gives police broad powers to prohibit peaceful assembly for any reason or for no reason. Museveni, who has been President since 1986, has used his expanded police powers to jail political opponents and prohibit peaceful meetings and rallies during his re-election campaign earlier this year.

Nevertheless, LGBT activists say that they had obtained permission from the police to hold this year’s event as required by law, and as they have done since the Public Order Management Act went into effect. No problems with police were reported by LGBT activists in 2014 or 2015. Why things are different for 2016 is anyone’s guess, although speculation obviously turns to possible connections to widespread allegations of police brutality against opposition leader Kizza Besigye and his supporters during and after Museveni’s re-election.  Besigye is currently out on bail on trumped up charges of treason. It’s a common practice in Uganda to divert public attention to LGBT people whenever public confidence in the country’s political and legal institutions is shaken.

Dr. Frank Mugisha is Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda:

And @Opimva is the Twitter handle for Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan transgender advocate.

J. Lester Feder at Buzzfeed spoke to some of the activists:

Around 20 to 25 people were arrested, those detained told BuzzFeed News after their release. That number included Pepe Julian Onziema and Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who both posted on their Twitter timelines that they were being placed under arrest at around 10:30 p.m. local time. Clare Byarugaba, former co-coordinator of the coalition opposing anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda and now on the staff of the human rights group Chapter 4 Uganda was also among those taken into custody, Chapter 4 director Nick Opiyo told BuzzFeed News.

Michael Lavers at the Washington Blade adds:

Asia Russell, executive director of Health GAP, an HIV/AIDS service organization, told the Washington Blade from Kampala that eyewitnesses said officers entered a nightclub in which a Uganda Pride beauty pageant was taking place at around 11 p.m. local time.

Russell said that up to 300 people were inside the nightclub — which is across the street from the U.S. Embassy — when the raid began.

She told the Blade that police “were assaulting people” with their hands and canes.

Russell said officers were “extremely brutal with” the gender non-conforming and trans women they singled out.

Russell told the Blade that eyewitnesses said the police sexually assaulted those who were inside the nightclub. She said they confiscated their cell phones and threatened to send the pictures they took of them to the media.


Buzzfeed reports:

“They were beating people … mostly the trans women,” Adebayo Katiiti Phiona, who won the title of Mr. Pride in 2015, told BuzzFeed News. “A police person even stepped on a trans woman.”

At one point, police were apparently claiming that a gay wedding was taking place. While Uganda’s constitution does not allow same-sex marriage, conducting a gay wedding is not, in and of itself, a criminal offense in Uganda.

Homosexuality is a crime under an older Ugandan law that was inherited from Britain when Uganda gained independence in 1962. According to that law, any person who “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.”

In 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced into Parliament which would have provided for the death penalty for homosexual acts. It would have also provided criminal penalties for anyone who refused to report gay people to police, or who provided shelter or aid to anyone who was gay. An amended version of the law was passed by Parliament in 2014, but after worldwide condemnation with several countries suspending foreign aid to Uganda, the country’s Constitutional Court found a face-saving technicality to cite in order to annul the law. Meanwhile, the legal situation for LGBT people in Uganda remains very tenuous.

Police apparently were trying to use the Public Order Management Act as justification for blocking the Pride celebration, but activists say that they had complied with the law by obtaining police permission ahead of time.

Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda told BuzzFeed News that police said the event was held without proper permission from police, a claim he emphatically denied.

“There’s no way we would hold an event without a clearance,” Onziema said, saying organizers had always communicated with police before holding Pride events for the last four years. “They don’t care as long as the word homosexuality is mentioned. As soon as that is mentioned, everything else ceases and [police feel they] have to act.”

A couple of hours later, all of the LGBT leaders were set free, apparently without charge:

Although one person was reportedly injured seriously while trying to escape. According to the Washington Blade:

Russell also told the Blade that a trans woman who jumped from the fourth floor of the nightclub during the raid remains in critical condition at a local hospital.

“Police behavior throughout this unlawful raid was brutal,” said Russell.

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