Faith leaders, rights activists blast Uganda’s ‘baseless’ raid

The Ugandan police raid on a human rights meeting on June 18 not only had “no basis whatsoever in law” but also encourages violence against LGBT people, international human rights groups and faith-based advocates say.

Police raid LGBT rights meeting near Kampala, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of NTV. Click photo to see the video.)
Police raid LGBT rights meeting near Kampala, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of NTV. Click photo to see the video.)

The disrupted meeting, attended by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, was organized by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, or EHAHRCP, which plans a series of workshops to improve the local gay community’s ability to report rights abuses.

Participants included Jane Wothaya Thirikwa, communications officer of Gay Kenya Trust, as well as Canadian citizen Neil Blazevic and Tabitha Netuwa from
EHAHRDP. They were held by police in a van, questioned, and released.

Police told NTV they are continuing to investigate whether Ugandan laws were broken and, if they conclude that crimes were committed, they will press charges.

In addition to her work in Kenya, Wothaya is one of dozens of activists who have been chosen to travel to Washington, D.C., next month during the International AIDS Conference from countries where homosexuality is illegal.  She and others will describe how anti-LGBT laws hamper the fight against HIV / AIDS.  Her trip is part of the faith-based Spirit of 76 Worldwide project, sponsored by the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and the Compass to Compassion coalition.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

This week’s raid, which was ordered by Uganda’s ethics minister, Simon Lokodo, was condemned in a joint statement by EHAHRDP,  the Front Line Defenders, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Amnesty International and the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law.  The groups said the raid was an “illegitimate infringement” of  human rights.

Compass coalition backer Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda said in a statement, “Friends everywhere are watching and praying for the oppressed at the hands of the misinformed attackers. It is a sad day in any country when human beings are harassed and arrested simply for loving each other according to their innate identity.”

In a separate statement, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, or AMSHeR, also condemned the raid. It stated that such “state-sponsored homophobic attacks and discrimination encourage violence against LGBTI people and a culture of impunity.”

Wothaya described the raid in the joint statement, which reported:

“While walking back to the room with other colleagues, three police officers ran after me and grabbed me, mishandling me as they walked me back towards the front of the hotel.

“I felt intimidated…[and] was not informed why I was being arrested, or why I was picked among a group of other persons.”

Police ordered EHAHRDP to discontinue the event and ask them for approval before holding more workshops in the future.

“The police advice to EHAHRDP has no basis whatsoever in law,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

“In this instance, the police have exceeded their authority. This continued harassment and intimidation of human rights activists must stop and the police need to start adhering to the laws they are supposed to protect and enforce.”

Compass coalition backer Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist office at the United Nations, said in a statement, “We can understand that societies can take a long time to change. But no improvement is possible if people are denied the right to meet and discuss ideas. This right, at the very least, must be maintained and protected.”

The action by Lokodo, who was ordained as a Catholic priest, “is not only unconstitutional but violates the Roman Catholic Church’s own position on pastoral care and protection of individual rights. Fr. Lukodo should know better,” the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation said in a statement.

“Minister Lukodo’s actions reinforce the need for complete reform of all anti-LGBT legislation globally, beginning in Uganda. The genocide needs to stop,” he said.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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