LGBT activist from Congo arrested, beaten in Uganda

Joseph Saidi displays his bandaged leg. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Saidi)
Joseph Saidi displays his bandaged leg. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Saidi)

LGBTI rights and anti-AIDS activist Joseph Saidi was arrested last week in Uganda, where he had fled for safety after being attacked at home last year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Saidi, the founder and president of the LGBT activist group Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko in Bukavu in the eastern region of the DRC, said he was tortured and threatened with death while in custody.

He was charged with sodomy, which under Ugandan law can lead to a life sentence.

He was released from custody after a friend paid police $200 and promised a further payment of $120, he said. Police held onto his passport and his computer.

The following is an abridged and edited version of Saidi’s account of his arrest, detention, torture and release:

At around 6 a.m. on March 13, I heard knocking on my door. It was  seven policemen, two neighbors, and one security agent. The policemen  told me, “Now you are arrested!”

I asked them why?

They told me that one of my neighbors reported police that last Saturday I asked to make love with him.

That was not true.

Joseph Saidi in happier times.
Joseph Saidi in happier times.

But since the Anti-Homosexuality Law has been signed I was not in good relationship with my neighbors. They were in a bad mood toward me and showing me a kind of hate.

When I was discussing with some of the policemen, others were searching  my house, checking everything, documents, my bag,…

They started to beat me.

After that, they took my laptop computer, two mobile phones, my passport, eight CDs and all of my money.

They pushed me out by force and I resisted. I wanted put on clothes. They wanted me to go outside just as they found me — in a vest and underwear. Then they beat me again.

They brought me to the police station in handcuffs.

They beat me a lot and tortured me seriously, trying to force me to tell them the password of my computer. I refused. Then one of the policemen put his gun to my head. If I didn’t give him the password he would shoot me, he said.

I told them I would never give them the password, no matter what happens to me.

Then they took my computer to a computer expert who was able to get into it.

Inside, it has all of my documents, videos and some pictures of my friends and they discovered that I am an LGBTI activist and they accused me of sodomy.

“Wow,” they said, “You came from Democratic Republic of Congo to teach and spoil our children with homosexuality??!!!”

[Editor’s note: The police then turned to the appallingly widespread myth that people are paid to be homosexual and to recruit others to that orientation.]

They told that if I want to be free I have to give them 2 million Uganda shillings [US$782] that the white men, they said, had given us to practice and teach homosexuality in our communities and associations.

When the policemen took me, one neighbor who is transgender contacted some people of the LGBTI association Angels Refugee Support Group and told them what had happened to me. They came and found me at the police station (Lugaba Police Station).

The president of the association negotiated a reduced amount: The police accepted US$320, with US$120 of that payable in the future.

I was released after 13 hours in prison after being beaten, abused and tortured.

They gave me back just a mobile phone and kept all my money.

Now my fear is that with all my documents and computer they have, they will again arrest me or kill me. Without my passport, I am no longer free to move.

After being released I did not return to my place. I am now in a hiding with  one of my friends.  I cannot walk because my right knee was beaten a lot, along with my back and shoulder. I have pain everywhere in my body.

I have fear that, with my friend, who is transgender, at any time we can be attacked again. I am traumatized.

I have fear of my physical security, what I need is security and protection. Any advice or help is welcomed.

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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, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]com.


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