LGBT Activists Cancel Uganda Pride After Threats From Government Official

Jim Burroway

August 5th, 2016

Yesterday, Uganda police raided a private party being held as part of Uganda Pride celebrations, arresting about 20-25 people and severely beating several transgender and crossdressing people attending a Mr/Mrs/Mx Uganda Pride pageant. Police later released all of those who had been arrested. LGBT leaders had vowed to continue with the rest of the planned activities for the week, but after a meeting with a government minister, organizers called off the rest of the Pride activities out of concern for the safety of participants. J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed has the details:

On Friday, lawyer Nick Opiyo of Chapter 4 Uganda met with Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo to discuss the raid. Following the meeting, Opiyo told BuzzFeed News that Lokodo had threatened to bring opposition to the event to the streets, so organizers decided it should be canceled.

Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a local NGO, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the parade on Saturday was cancelled and postponed “at least” until the following week.

“We decided to suspend it because of the risks to personal safety,” Opiyo said. “The minister threatened to mobilize a mob and a large police group to beat up anyone who shows up for pride tomorrow. We will engage the government next week with a view of holding the pride parade at another date soon.”

Opiyo indicates that Lokodo may be acting as a loose canon by directly breaking an agreement between the Ugandan government and donor nations which allowed similar pride events to take place quietly in 2014 and 2015.

Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo

Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo

Simon Lokodo is a defrocked Catholic priest who is now, ironically, in charge of the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity. Seriously. He was one of the strongest proponents of the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which provided the death penalty for “repeat offenders” of homosexual activity, as well as for anyone who was gay and HIV-positive. It also added criminal penalties for anyone who advocated on behalf of gay people, anyone who provided housing or other services to gay people, and anyone who neglected to report gay people to police. Lokodo was among the chorus of Ugandans who repeatedly lied to the rest of the world about the existence of the death penalty in the proposed legislation. Even before Parliament acted on the bill, Lokodo often pretended as though the proposed legislation had already become law by shutting down LGBT rights conferences and meetings. He arrested the producer of a play which was being performed at a small theater portraying the difficulties LGBT people face living in Uganda. He has also moved to shut down NGOs for their perceived or actual support for LGBT rights, although Ugandan activists have repeatedly defied his ban on their work.

In 2014, the Uganda Parliament approved an amended version the Anti-Homosexualty Bill which dropped the death penalty in favor of a lifetime sentence. Following worldwide condemnation and several countries suspending foreign aid to Uganda, the country’s Constitutional Court annulled the law on a technicality later that year in a face-saving move.

This latest action against the LGBT community is taking place amid a rapid escalation of human rights violations being committed by Uganda police over the past few years in support of the increasingly authoritarian President Yowery Museveni. Police violence against the ruling party’s political opponents have become routine, culminating the arrest last March of opposition leader Kizza Besigye on trumped up charges of treason after Museveni won an unprecedented fifth term to continue his 30-year rule. According to a statement issued by a coalition of NGOs participating in the Uganda Pride activities:

This episode of police brutality did not happen in isolation, the groups said. It comes at a time of escalating police violence targeting media, independent organizations, and the political opposition.

“Any force by Ugandan police targeting a peaceful and lawful assembly is outrageous,” said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), who was among those arrested. “The LGBTI community stands with all Ugandan civil society movements against police brutality.”

“The Ugandan government should condemn violent illegal actions by police targeting the LGBTI community and all Ugandans,” said Asia Russell at Health GAP. “The US and all governments should challenge President Museveni to intervene immediately and hold his police force accountable.”

LGBTI Ugandans routinely face violence, discrimination, bigotry, blackmail, and extortion. The unlawful government raid on a spirited celebration displays the impunity under which Ugandan police are operating. “The state has a duty to protect all citizens’ enjoyment of their rights, including the right to peacefully assemble to celebrate Pride Uganda,” said Hassan Shire, executive director at Defend Defenders. “A swift and transparent investigation should be conducted into last night’s unacceptable demonstration of police brutality.”

Yesterday’s raid provides a tragic reminder of why everyone needs to be concerned about the personal safety of anyone who might show up at a pride event the next few days. During yesterday’s raid, one transman was severely injured when he tried to escape by jumping from a balcony on the fourth floor of the hosting pub. He is currently in Mulago hospital in very serious condition:

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