Will Christian leaders replace anti-AIDS funding they blocked?

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Macalester.edu)

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of Macalester.edu)

This is an expanded version of a letter to the editor of the Jamaica Observer by Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson. The additions, by Tomlinson and blog editor Colin Stewart, are  italicized and in brackets.

“[In Jamaica] dogma trumps everything, including public health.” This borrowed statement pretty much sums up the current situation with regard to Jamaica’s HIV response.

UNAIDS and our minister of health have made it clear that the most vulnerable populations — sex workers, drug users, men who have sex with men (MSM), youth, etc. — are not being reached with anti-HIV interventions because of outdated laws and policies. And we know that HIV is bridging from these groups into the general population.

Peter Figueroa, director of Jamaica's national HIV/STI program

Peter Figueroa, former director of Jamaica’s national HIV/STI program (Photo courtesy of W.H.O.)

[An estimated 33 percent of Jamaican MSM are HIV-infected and 60 percent of MSM in Jamaica also have sex with women, according to Peter Figueroa, former director of Jamaica's national HIV/STI program and professor of public health at the University of the West Indies.]

However, in order to keep the powerful religious fundamentalists happy, we retain antiquated laws and enshrine homophobic practices.

[Jamaica's "buggery" law, inherited from the days of the British Empire, provides for up to 10 years in prison for anal intercourse. That law is not actively enforced, but it contributes to homophobic Jamaican-on-Jamaican violence, both rhetorical and physical.]

Funders are paying attention. They will send their scarce resources to countries that are responding to the health needs of the entire population.

Logo of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

Logo of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

[UNAIDS and PEPFAR may well do this if Jamaica and the Caribbean does not get its act together with regard to the punitive laws -- a fact that's known by Caribbean leaders, who are almost entirely dependent on external support for their HIV interventions. However, the apparent expendability of the small LGBTI populations is one reason the governments are refusing to act. There is also the incredible strength of the churches that prevent any forward movement on LGBTI rights. The most palpable example of funding being redirected is the case in Uganda, where an entire HIV programme was shut down because of funds being withdrawn due to the homophobic nature of the organizers.]

Meanwhile, we have to struggle to find — or divert from critical programmes, such as education — ever-scarcer U.S. dollars in order to support our HIV response.

[PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) recently announced that, as a result of a policy shift, it has ended funding for CHART (the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training Programme) and other funded health training partnerships, effective Sept. 1.]

While rich church leaders all hold visas and travel to inclusive societies for medical care, etc., they doom the rest of the population to life in an increasingly dangerous, unhealthy, and polarised society.

The Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF) must be joking if they expect Caribbean governments to continue financing CHART.

[See the RJR News article, "Lawyers Christian Fellowship wants to know if Caribbean Govts will pick up funding shortfall for CHART."]

After all, LCF had effectively doomed CHART by insisting that someone who does not share the organisation’s values be retained as its head.

Free speech advocate opposes the firing of Prof. Brendan Bain as head of the Caribbean anti-AIDS training program. (Photo courtesy of The Gleaner)

Lawyers Christian Fellowship supported protests against the firing of Prof. Brendan Bain as head of the Caribbean anti-AIDS training program. (Photo courtesy of The Gleaner)

[LCF objected to the University of West Indies decision to fire Brendan Bain in May as CHART leader after it became clear that he did not recognize that anti-gay laws limit the access of LGBT people to health care and thus tend to increase HIV infection rates by pushing the HIV epidemic underground. Bain was reinstated in June when he won an injunction against his firing until a court decides on his lawsuit. A hearing in that case is scheduled for October.]

It is time for the LCF and all other religious fundamentalists to put their money where their mouth is. Let them dip into the offering plates to fund our HIV response. The Government must take action and put a stop to these selfish fundamentalists who are threatening our entire society.

Posted in Americas, Anti-LGBT laws and legislation, Faith and religion, HIV / AIDS, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forbidden love: Exploring true, complex lives of LGBTI Africans

By Mike Nicholson

Cover of "Esto No Es Africano"

Cover of “Esto No Es Africano,” which tells true stories of forbidden loves from Cairo to Cape Town

In recent years, news of homophobic laws in Africa has resonated across the Global North. While many individuals are at least superficially aware of the plight of LGBTI men and women in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria, the media’s focus on politicians and laws means that the lives of LGBTI individuals remain somewhat distant and inaccessible to those who have little knowledge of Africa and Africans.

“Esto No Es Africano,” or “This is Not African,” by Spanish journalist Marc Serena is thus an impressive and important book. Part ethnography, part travelogue, and part social commentary, Serena’s work reveals to readers the human face of LGBTI experience. He introduces us to a number of memorable, complex, and eminently relatable LGBTI individuals residing all over Africa — from Cairo to Cape Town, and from Cabo Verde east to Kenya. We meet characters as diverse as Muhsin, Africa’s first openly gay imam with a congregation of 60-odd people in Cape Town, and Tchinda, the first transwoman to come out of the closet in Cabo Verde.

Imam Muhsin Hendricks (Photo courtesy of the Alicia Patterson Foundation)

Gay imam Muhsin Hendricks of South Africa  (Photo courtesy of the Alicia Patterson Foundation)

Through Serena, these characters reveal their desires to live happily and to love freely—desires largely shared by LGBTI individuals in the Global North. Ultimately, we learn to think of his interviewees not as monolithic victims, but as complex human beings whose full stories deserve to be heard in the Global North.

Serena paints a picture of an Africa that is far more subtle and complex than is often portrayed in the media. Many of Serena’s interviewees reveal heart-wrenching stories of discrimination. Among others, he introduces us “Ice Queer,” an “undercover” gay Egyptian blogger, and Kholoud, a lesbian Berber from Tunisia, who share stories of familial rejection and forced conversion therapy. We next meet Said, a gay Moroccan man whose house has been vandalized, who has been beaten and harassed (by family, neighbors, and even police), and who has been denied employment due to his sexuality. Such profound hardships have driven Said to alcoholism and depression. We also meet Guirane, an HIV+ gay Senegalese man who has been imprisoned multiple times for homosexual behavior and who cannot return home due to death threats from his father and brother. In Ghana, we learn of several gay men who have been victims of extortion and blackmail. In Uganda, we meet Gloria, an intersex woman who is afraid to seek work and, often, to even leave her house for fear of taunting.

Ad for a Houari Mazouzi show in Paris.

Ad for a Houari Mazouzi concert in Paris.

Alongside these stories of discrimination, however, Serena presents readers with hopeful images. In Oran, Algeria, we are introduced to Houari Mazouzi, a well-known raï (Algerian popular music) singer who sings openly about his male lovers. In Cabo Verde, we meet Tchinda, the country’s first transgendered person to come out of the closet. Tchinda reveals that she has received universal support from her family and community and has been praised for her courage. “The whole world loves us,” she exclaims. In Tarime, Tanzania, we meet Agneda and Esther, two married women who belong to the Kuria ethnic group— a tribe that allows women without sons to marry other women. Agneda and Esther are raising children together and have the support of their community and the Pentecostal church to which they belong.

It would not be accurate, however, to claim that these individuals live free of discrimination. In Algeria, Cheb Abdou mentions that he is sometimes insulted in the streets and notes that, despite nominal social acceptance of homosexuality, gay men and lesbians are ultimately expected to get married and have children. Tchinda notes that, despite broad social acceptance, LGBTI people in Cabo Verde are barred from military service and occasionally face discrimination among Muslim communities. Ultimately, through Serena’s accounts, we come to know an Africa where the realities of being LGBTI are far more complex than is often portrayed by media in the Global North.

Serena’s book is clearly socially conscious and it is implicit that he favors expanded rights for LGBTI Africans. That said, his book is more akin to an ethnographic text or a travelogue than a persuasive essay. Overall, his tone is objective and his historical and contextual exposition is thoughtful and well-informed. He seldom interjects his own opinion into the narrative. He also does not propose any solutions to the problems that LGBTI communities face in Africa. Instead, he simply allows his interviewees to reveal their stories, giving voice to individuals whose might otherwise remain “voiceless.” Readers expecting trenchant social commentary may be left disappointed, but others will come away with a nuanced understanding of the lived experiences of LGBTI populations across Africa.

Marc Serena in 2013 while promoting his previous book, “La vuelta de los 25,” based on 25 interviews with 25-year-olds in 25 countries. (Photo courtesy of Beijing Today)

Marc Serena poses which promoting his previous book, “La vuelta de los 25,” which was based on 25 interviews with 25-year-olds in 25 countries. (Photo courtesy of Beijing Today)

Several important recurring themes punctuate Serena’s interviews.

First, the psychological impacts of discrimination are apparent. Said suffers from depression and alcoholism. Gloria is so terrified of discrimination that she is afraid to seek employment. A gay man in Ghana notes that many LGBTI individuals are afraid that “coming out” will hurt their families’ reputation. As such, many stay in the closet, often racked with depression and guilt.

Second, LGBTI populations face widespread employment discrimination in many African countries, particularly if their behavior is not thought of as gender-conforming. This lowers individuals’ self-esteem and exacerbates depression. Further, as in the cases of Said in Morocco, Guirane in Senegal, and Zungu in Tanzania, rampant discrimination drives many LGBTI individuals to prostitution.

Third, Serena’s work implies that cultural taboos surrounding sex and sexual education elevate the risk of STDs among LGBTI-identifying individuals, at least in some countries. Guirane reveals that he never learned about the benefits of using a condom—neither in school nor from family or friends— prior to contracting an STD. Likewise, Zungu, a sex worker in Tanzania, notes that the public is poorly informed about STDs. He noted that his clients sometimes demand bareback sex and threaten to report him to the police if he doesn’t comply. Several interviewees in Uganda and Zambia also note that it is very difficult to find spermicidal lube in their countries, raising their STD risk.

Finally, through the stories of Chengo in Zambia and Gloria in Uganda, we learn of the unique difficulties faced by transgendered and intersex individuals across Africa. Few transgendered and intersex people in Africa can afford hormone therapy, much less gender transition surgery. Further, few doctors are capable of performing such operations—individuals desiring a sex change must fly to large cities such as Cairo or out of Africa entirely.

It is clear that Serena’s book is clearly highly important and merits reading. That said, it is not without shortcomings. For one, Serena implies in his introduction that one of his principal goals is to counter the prevailing African argument that homosexuality is a Western import, a notion that is often employed by political and media demagogues to vilify LGBTI persons in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria. This goal is inherent in the work’s title, “This is Not African.”

While Serena’s case studies demonstrate to readers that sexual minorities in Africa span many ethnicities and social classes, his fundamental argument would be strengthened by a more thorough discussion of pre-colonial indigenous beliefs regarding homosexuality. His discussion of Tanzanian tribes that permit female-female marriages was particularly fascinating and may provide a direct challenge to the notion that homosexuality is a “Western” import.

That said, his interviews in Tanzania left me hankering for more information. Indeed, he notes that at least a dozen tribes across Africa have historically recognized same-sex relationships in some form or another. How do these tribes regard male-male relationships? Transgendered people? How are these tribes and their cultures regarded by other ethnic groups? I was left wondering why Serena did not discuss such tribes in greater depth. Was it simply impractical to do so? Ultimately, further explicit discussion along this vein might drive home the point that homosexuality is indeed as “African” as it is “North American” or “European.”

Marc Serena poses with the Catalan edition of his book.

Marc Serena poses with the Catalan edition of “Esto No Es Africano.”

Next, Serena focuses on specific individuals residing in specific countries. Readers seeking to gain broad insight into the experiences of LGBTI populations in a specific country may thus be left disappointed. In most of his case studies, Serena focuses on gay men and women. In some countries, notably Zambia and Cabo Verde, Serena documents transgendered individuals. In Uganda, his focus is on an intersex woman. Some of his case studies featured individuals that may face particularly severe challenges in their home countries. For example, Serena’s Kenya chapter focuses on a gay man suffering from albinism (John). The author alternates between discussing the problems he faces due to albinism and the homophobia he has encountered.

Ultimately, I was uncertain of the extent to which this case and the others presented are representative of the broader experiences of the queer communities in his selected countries. Perhaps interviewing a handful of gay men, women, and transgendered individuals in each country would have provided a more representative and comparative picture of the LGBTI experiences in Africa. At the least, some comparative discussion of the diverse experiences of gays, lesbians, transgendered people, and others would have been highly informative and enhance the coherence and cogency of the book. Serena’s attempts to contextualize his interviewees’ experiences is occasionally distracting and does little to help readers to understand the specific experiences of LGBTI Africans—the purported purpose of the book.

At times, Serena appears to digress into tangents. While it is important to discuss the cultural and social contexts in which the book’s protagonists reside (I should note that Serena often does this highly effectively), such exposition should thus ideally be limited to information that will advance readers’ understanding of LGBTI issues.

In his Mauritania case study, for example, Serena discusses female genital mutilation in significant depth. He also addresses complex topics such as discrimination against albinos (in Kenya) and undocumented migration (in Morocco). While these are serious problems that probably have affected the lives of LGBTI individuals in Africa, they are not LGBTI-specific issues. As such, Serena’s “asides” ultimately contribute little to the book.

Finally, Serena’s style alternates between that ethnographic and that of a travelogue. Several of his chapters feature long reflections on travel in Africa—the difficulty of traveling by bus, the chaos of transportation hubs, the atmosphere of tension at border checkpoints. In one chapter, he expresses mild frustrations directed towards pushy street vendors and beggars assuming that he is wealthy due to his skin color. Perhaps Serena is trying to conjure a mental image—beckoning readers to imagine they are in Africa. Ultimately, however, his reflections on travel again are somewhat distracting and add little to the book. I feel that the book may have been more effective had Serena included less personal narrative and focused more exclusively on the lives of those individuals whose lives form the heart and soul of the text.

Criticisms aside, this is a highly important book that merits reading. I sincerely hope that this book is translated into languages other than Spanish. The lives of LGBTI individuals in Africa are relatively poorly documented and inaccessible to many in the Global North. As far as I am aware, no other comparative, interview-based exploration of LGBTI lives exists. For those in the Global North, this book humanizes LGBTI Africans and makes their voices accessible to any who would care to listen.

Mike Nicholson, a doctoral student in San Diego, California, is a 2005 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a former Fulbright scholar. He has lived in Chile, Turkey and in six U.S. states.


Esto No Es Africano is available in a Kindle electronic edition for US $9.99, in paperback from Editorial Xplora for 19 euros and in paperback from Editorial Xplora via Amazon for US $29.00.  It is not yet available in an English translation.


 

 

 

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gambia plans life sentences for gay ‘repeat offenders’

Despite continuing violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.

Despite continuing violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.

The Associated Press reports:

Gambia’s National Assembly has passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said [today, Sept. 8], potentially worsening the climate for sexual minorities in a country with one of Africa’s most vocal anti-gay leaders.

The bill amending the criminal code was passed last month and brings life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality,” minority leader Samba Jallow told The Associated Press.

That is a charge leveled at repeat offenders and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Jallow said that, while his National Reconciliation Party did not condone homosexuality, he voted against the bill along with one other lawmaker.

“In our view, homosexuals did not commit a crime worthy of life imprisonment or any treasonable offense,” he said.

News of the bill has not been spotted on any of the Gambia’s online news sites.

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

Map of Africa shows the west African location of The Gambia

The bill now goes to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for his approval.  Jammeh has often launched verbal attacks on LGBT people, calling  homosexuality “satanic,” a threat to population growth, “anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization.”

During Gambia’s independence day celebrations this year, Jammeh called homosexuals “vermin” and said his government would fight them as it fights malaria-causing mosquitoes.

Under current Gambian law, homosexual activities are punishable by a 14-year prison term.  Despite that law, the Gambia has something of  a reputation as a gay tourism destination.

In June, Momodou Sabally, then Gambia’s secretary general and minister for presidential affairs, said that a bill would be submitted to parliament that would seek to “ban all gay rights and homosexuality in the country,” Star Africa reported.

But gay-related news from the Gambia has featured more verbal attacks than actual arrests.

In April 2012, in one of the most recent publicized crackdowns on LGBT people in Gambia came when 20 people were charged with homosexuality-related offenses after a police raid on an alleged “homosexual dance.” After a lengthy detention, all were acquitted in August 2012.

Last month, police arrested 12 men on suspicion of homosexuality in a series of  raids, Gambia’s online Kibaaro News reported.

The Associated Press also reported about the bill:

Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup and is famous for speeches condemning Western powers, has not addressed the new bill publicly.

National Assembly Speaker Abdoulie Bojang confirmed the new bill was passed last month but would not provide further details.

A draft seen by The Associated Press contains language identical to a controversial anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda earlier this year.

In addition to “serial offenders” and people living with HIV/AIDS, both pieces of legislation say examples of “aggravated homosexuality” include when the suspect engages in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is “in authority over” him or her.

It was not immediately clear whether there were changes to the draft prior to the National Assembly vote.

For more information, see the full AP story, “Gambia Lawmakers Pass Bill to Jail Gays for Life.”

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Anti-LGBT laws and legislation | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Track star, ousted by team, now evicted by anti-gay family

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Thierry Essamba (Photo de sa page Facebook)

Thierry Essamba (Photo from his Facebook page)

As if he were a character in a tragic soap opera, star athlete Thierry Essamba keeps suffering new varieties of homophobic abuse.

After he was expelled from Cameroon’s national track team on suspicion of homosexuality, his family warned him that he would have to find a new place to live. On Aug. 28, he was thrown out of the family home in Yaoundé.

A friend was visiting him when Essamba’s older brother abruptly appeared and ordered both men to leave.

Thierry said the event was as humiliating as when he was expelled from the national track team on May 24 in a stadium filled with spectators who had come to see the team compete. On Aug. 28, he said, his whole neighborhood looked on as his brother forced him out of the home and shouted, “Go do your dirt elsewhere.”

The “dirt” that day consisted of allowing a friend to visit to chat with him and cheer him up.

To put an end to the humiliating scene caused by his brother, Essamba left the house immediately without even retrieving his belongings.

He later spoke with his mother by telephone and learned that she saw nothing wrong with what his brother did.

110m haies à RIo en 2007

Thierry Essamba won a gold medal for Cameroon in the 110 meter hurdles in the 2013 Central African Championships in Brazzaville, Congo. The photo is of that event in Rio in 2007.

The next day, Essamba was still in shock. He felt abandoned, alone in the world, that life was no longer worth living, Leaving him alone after that conversation was agonizing, for fear of what he might do.

Essamba now fears what fate has in store for him, although he accepts the need to be a focus of public attention, to meet people and give interviews. But his daily life has become a nightmare.

A female friend has loaned him a temporary place to sleep, but no one knows how long that arrangement can last.

What is left to say? Can no one help save the life of a track star who has been laid low by homophobia?

The author of this article is an LGBT rights activist in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Uganda: An anti-gay law is gone; anti-gay trial continues

Kim Mukisa, 24, a businessman, and Jackson Mukasa,

Kim Mukisa and Jackson Mukasa were held in Uganda’s Luzira Prison until they were released on bail to await the start of their trial.

The trial of a gay man and a transgender woman is scheduled for Sept. 22 in a Ugandan courtroom  in a case that threatens them with the potential of life imprisonment for sexual activity “against the order of nature.”

The defendants are not accused of violating the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which was in effect from its signing in February until the Constitutional Court overturned it on procedural grounds on Aug. 1.

They are charged under an older law, Uganda’s Penal Code, in which Section 145  provides for a life sentence for consensual same-sex relations.

When proceedings against gay businessman Kim Mukisa, 24, and Jackson Mukasa, 19, a transgender woman, began in May, the trial was described by the LGBT advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) as the first in the recent history of Section 145.

All previous cases under Section 145 had either been dismissed for want of prosecution or  remained pending, SMUG said.  That changed last year during discussions and eventual passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, when officials again began prosecuting homosexuality-related cases.

Jackson Mukasa, left, and Kim Mukisa

The possibility of life in prison confronts Jackson Mukasa, left, and Kim Mukisa, currently on trial in Uganda.

The advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF) has provided lawyers for several LGBT defendants, including Mukisa and Mukasa.

Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court last considered the case against Mukisa and Mukasa on Aug. 27.

In a previous session, the state prosecutor had asked for an adjournment to produce witnesses, HRAPF reported. The defense lawyer then asked court that it should be the last adjournment for the prosecution and she prayed for the matter to be dismissed.

On Aug. 27,  the state prosecutor was not in court because her child was sick. HRAPF said that the magistrate could not render a judgment in the absence of the state prosecutor so the case was adjourned to Sept. 22.

Mukisa came to the attention of police on Jan. 27 when he was attacked by a mob. HRAPF rescued Mukisa from the mob, but he was then arrested by the police. Mukasa was arrested the next day.

During court proceedings, the defense team will challenge the constitutionality of the Penal Code provisions, “if strategically appropriate,” SMUG has said.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Cameroon landlords evict 2 groups serving LGBTI

By Denis LeBlanc

Two Cameroonian associations serving LGBTI people — Humanity First Cameroon and Colibri — have suddenly found themselves on the street, looking for new premises, victims of allegedly homophobic property owners.

Colibri, based in Bafoussam

Logo de Colibri

Logo of Colibri

Last week, the anti-AIDs group Colibri, located in Bafoussam, the capital of the Western Region of Cameroon, was devastated to learn that it was being evicted from the headquarters it had occupied since 2000. The cause was homophobia, according to an e-mail from Jean Jules Kamgue, president of Colibri.

Colibri (which means “hummingbird”) provides HIV/AIDS prevention programs to vulnerable populations as well as psychosocial counseling to HIV-positive people.

“We have been routed,” Kamgue said. “We do not know where we will go with our tons of documents and furniture. “

Humanity First Cameroon, based in Yaoundé

Humanity First logo

Humanity First logo

On Sept. 2, the anti-AIDS group Humanity First Cameroon was ordered by its landlord to evacuate its headquarters immediately.  The offices also serve as a counseling center, focuses on human rights advocacy, health counseling, STI treatment and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The association has operated there for the past two years.  Humanity First said the eviction notice was the landlord’s response to the association’s request for repairs to the premises in order to eliminate leaks that were damaging equipment and threatening staff members’ health.

Humanity First said, “This notification confirmed the homophobic motivations of the owners of the premises, as shown by their willingness to hassle and evict a long-term tenant.”  The landlord refused even to put his name on a document along with the name of the association, Humanity First said.

The association said that the walls of the offices were damp, the water supply was unreliable and electricity bills were high.

Humanity First Cameroon issued a challenge to the Yaoundé community to help it weather this setback to continue  its fight against AIDS.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ugandan murder mystery: New evidence, still no clarity

Logo of the Friends New Underground Railroad

Logo of the Friends New Underground Railroad

The secretive Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR), which claims that seven LGBT Ugandans were stoned and burned to death last month in rural Uganda, has released a statement about the reported event from one of the railroad’s unnamed “conductors” who help endangered Ugandans to reach safety abroad.

The new statement raises more questions than it answers, much like the photos that accompanied the original report of the alleged stonings and like last week’s release of a recording described as a Ugandan radio show about the stonings.

The new statement by the Friends Railroad worker, identified with the pseudonym “Katende Sam,” was heavily redacted to protect people who would be at risk if they were identified, FNUR said.

First page of the redacted statement by Sam Katende.

First page of the redacted statement by “Katende Sam.”

The redaction  process left the statement essentially useless as a tool for determining whether the incidents actually occurred, since verifiable details are omitted. Officials of the Friends Railroad apparently trust no journalist or LGBT rights organization enough to provide them even with off-the-record access to people and facts that could be used to verify the claims.

The evidence that FNUR has provided is below, accompanied by some of the unanswered questions about it.

The questions began immediately after FNUR issued a press release on Aug. 16 saying that three gay men, two lesbians and a transgender person were stoned by a mob in recent weeks. Five of them died from the stoning, while the sixth survived briefly until doused in kerosene and set on fire, FNUR said. In a separate incident at an undisclosed location elsewhere in Uganda, FNUR said, a 28-year-old gay man was attacked by another mob on Aug. 5, suffered head injuries, and died the next day.

HRAPF logo

HRAPF logo

The Kampala-based Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) sent a five-person team to the general area where FNUR reported that the six people were murdered.  The HRAPF team had been provided with little information about the alleged attacks and did not find evidence that they had occurred. (See HRAPF report.)

THE EVIDENCE

Photos

Friends Railroad distributed four photos allegedly taken of the attack on the 28-year-old gay man who was reported stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location.  A cropped version of one of the least offensive of them is below.

Unverified photo shows the allegedly gay victim of an Ugandan mob after he was reportedly stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location but before he died. (Photo courtesy of Friends New Underground Railroad)

Unverified photo shows the allegedly gay victim of an Ugandan mob after he was reportedly stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location but before he died. (Photo courtesy of Friends New Underground Railroad)

Fabricated or repurposed photos and videos are a frequent online phenomenon, such as a horrific image of a man burned beside railroad tracks, which was published repeatedly with various descriptions:

The image provided by FNUR (above) had not been published previously online, at least according to Google Image Search. However, the image comes with no further information that could be used to verify it.

One of the other FNUR photos included the image of a motorcycle’s license plate.  No report has been received of whether the owner of that motorcycle has been located and questioned.

Radio show

Friends Railroad released an audio file last week that it described as a recording of a KBS Radio show from Uganda, which it said “corroborates” the group’s earlier report of the six murders. (A rough transcript of the audio file is here. Warning: It includes a distasteful discussion of whether LGBT people should be arrested and put on trial or should simply be killed.)

In the undated recording, the unnamed host of the show, apparently called “The Council,” discusses the stonings with an “opinion leader” from the Buyende region who is named, approximately, “Mr. Vasileva.”

Vasileva refers to the deaths as an event that he has heard about rather than witnessed directly.

Date – The date of the stonings is given as Aug. 4, which had not been previously stated.

Location – The location of the stonings was given as in “a market” in the village of Itukira in the Buyende region. FNUR has repeatedly cited that location and said that it has unreleased evidence that it exists, but HRAPF’s report indicates that no such location exists.

Participants – The audio document describes the participants in the stoning as “a group of Christians” who “had a pastor from Kampala.”

Victims’ names – Five names cited in this file are similar to the names on the list of six victims that FNUR provided to HRAPF and to some journalists. The sixth name may have been on Vasileva’s tongue when the host interrupted him.  These are the differences in names — Vasileva mentioned Isaaca Marunda [rather than the "Isaac Marunda" on the FNUR list]; Amis Dhakaba ["Amir Dhakaba" on the FNUR list]; and Geoffrey Waibi [on the FNUR list, "Godfrey Waibi"].

Audio quality – The sound quality of the recording is good, far better than could have been achieved if it had been recorded over the air from a radio broadcast.

Radio station – Friends Railroad identifies the broadcast as “a KBS Radio show,” which might mean Kamuli Broadcasting Services. If so, it’s strange that the show’s host describes his guest as “coming from Kamuli” to talk about the events in Buyende.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, says that his organization contacted both Kamuli Broadcasting Services (KBS) in Kamuli and Impact FM in Kampala, which has also been named as a station that discussed the stonings. “Both denied ever airing the said bulletins. Buyende itself has no radio station,” Jjuuko said.

In an investigation about the possible veracity of the recording, BuzzFeed stated:

The Buyende region is northwest of Kampala, Uganda's capital. (Map courtesy of weather-forecast.com)

The Buyende region is northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. (Map courtesy of weather-forecast.com)

“[The recording] identifies the station as KBS, Kamuli Broadcasting Services, which is based in a town in eastern Uganda just south of Buyende, the district where FNUR says the attacks took place. The person being interviewed on the program does not appear to have witnessed the attacks, but rather says he ‘heard about the homosexuals.’ He then reads a list of names and provides details on how some of the victims were said to have died.

“The station’s publicity manager, Galimaka Charles, denied that his station had ever broadcast any reports of stonings. …

“He also said they broadcast no program by the name given in the recording. ‘We do not have a program [called] “Council” on KBS.’

“Galimaka also said that he knew of no place by the name of ‘Itukira,’ repeatedly identified as the location of the stoning in the broadcast.”

Statement of FNUR worker

The statement by a Friends Railroad worker identified under the pseudonym “Katende Sam” was released yesterday in heavily redacted form on the FNUR blog.  It is also available without black blotches on this blog (but with redacted words indicated by “xxxxxx” instead).

The statement describes Katende’s upbringing and his decision to help FNUR as a “conductor” who assists endangered LGBT Ugandans seeking to leave the country. Eventually Katende’s secret rescue missions became known, at which point he and his family also had to leave the country. They are currently in Kigali, Rwanda.

FNUR officials have previously described this conductor’s account as evidence that would verify the account of six people being stoned in the Buyende region. Katende’s statement does discuss the stonings, but only as an event that he heard about second-hand.

Katende said he was contacted by an acquaintance who was worried about what might happen because “Christians had raised and were rounding up suspected gay people.”  Katende later learned the news of the reported stonings from local radio, he said.

That portion of the statement is especially heavily redacted, which makes it nearly impossible to use as a tool in verifying the account of the stonings:

Before I left Uganda, what happened in Buyende will forever haunt me. xxxxx xxxxx a xxxxx trader from xxxxx who usually goes to Buyende Animal market to purchase xxxxx and xxxxx from sell gave me a call ([man’s name] like we call him is an incloset bisexual hard working young man). He had gone to do his business with his long truck to bring animals to sell to meat dealers. He was also worried for his own life as he thought maybe they knew.

Christians had raised and were rounding up suspected gay people (not that they knew and were 100% sure that they are gay — you may realize that some of those suspected are just business competitors)

[man’s name] thought I had the authority and connections to put this office, I advised him to call police which he said he can’t because he had his own fears. Some days later, I heard from a local fm radio station that 6 suspected gay people had been killed with so much brutality in Itukira village in Buyenda.

Also other radio stations including KBS started talking about. As soon as the news broke, immediately some people started changing the story, not to damage the image of Buyenda or somebody else wasn’t just doing his or her job.

Depsite what has been said I stand by the fact that those 6 were killed and justice won’t be served because facts and details have been played around with to the excitement of the haters.

It is not clear why Katende remains unidentified even though he has reached safety in Rwanda.  On the other hand, it’s clear that the identity of the man who told Katende about the Christians “rounding up” gays needed to be withheld for his safety.

Also unclear: Why the location of the reported stoning remains in doubt, since it should be easy and safe to specify the location of Itukira, if it exists.

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