LGBTI activists in hiding in Uganda after release by police

Community service work sponsored by Youth on Rock Foundation. (Photo courtesy of YRF.)
Community service work sponsored by Youth on Rock Foundation. (Photo courtesy of YRF.)

Four young LGBTI activists in Uganda are in hiding after at least two of them were arrested and detained for several days on homosexuality-related charges.

An online international appeal for support for their LGBTI rights group, Youth on Rock Foundation, seeks to help the organization get back in business with both an office and safe house in Kampala, Uganda.

The Youth on Rock Foundation is a community organization “run by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) youth,” the group says. “We live and work in Kampala’s poorest district – we work with the grassroots because we are the grassroots. Our mission is both to support young people here who are at risk, and to sensitize and educate our greater community about LGBTI people and our rights.”

Youth on Rock supporter Suzanne Zelei, based in Sweden, launched the appeal on Fundrazr. She writes:

At the moment, four young gay activists and human rights defenders are in hiding after being released from jail. They have received phone calls with death threats. They are rapidly running out of means to subsist on.

With our help they will be able to quickly return to their work: organizing and supporting the most destitute of Kampala’s LGBTI youth.

I am collecting urgently needed donations for the activist Joseph Kawesi’s “Youth on Rock Foundation” in order to bring him and three more activists now in hiding to a safer location where they can continue their activism.

The “Youth on Rock Foundation” organizes and supports gender and sexual minority youth in Kampala’s slums.

On their Youth on Rock blog, the activists themselves write about their current situation and what led up to it:

Youth on Rock Foundation logo
Youth on Rock Foundation logo

In October our landlord was ordered to evict us immediately, and we lost of our offices. The situation continued to intensify. On December 26th the offices of Sexual Minorities Uganda were broken into and vandalized – for the second time.

Then on New Year’s Eve, our founder Kawesi Joseph was unlawfully arrested and jailed for homosexuality and “recruitment of youth to homosexuality”. This even though the Kill the Gays bill, which stipulates such a charge, has yet to be voted on by Parliament.

The next day another member was arrested while visiting him in jail, along with two other boys accused of homosexuality. They were only released after much work by human rights defenders from SMUG and EHAHRDP [the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project]. Since then they have had to stay in different places, receiving phone calls with death threats and harassment by police.

With this latest escalation of persecution, threats and violence against us we believe our work is more important than ever. While these times are dangerous, we also know that we have the attention and support of people all over the world. We have created this blog to be able to reach out to you.

Since October, none of us have regular access to either computers or internet. We will update sporadically for now, or communicate via volunteer allies in other countries. But once we are up and running again we will tell the world our stories.

Zelei relayed these comments that Kawesi made during a recent IM chat with her:

Joseph Kawesi (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Joseph Kawesi (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Even now they are still hunting us, they want to see us dead. We are much traumatized and we are still up to now receiving anonymous phone calls warning to give us poison.

We started to face terrible mistreatment from our community ever since the initiation of our organization. I will try to compile a record of all the torture, unlawful arrests, detentions without trial, burning of our houses, extortions and insults and more of that kind, accompanied with pictures and other evidence, so that you can really be in a position to understand clearly what we go through here in Uganda.

… It really makes us feel and have hope whenever we have people beside us.”

To contribute to the campaign, go to Fundrazr.

For more information about the reasons for the appeal and how the funds will be handled,  read “Why donate through this crowdfunding effort? Q & A!” on the Safe Space Uganda blog of Zelei and Kawesi.

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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