Ugandan AIDS clinic hopes to reopen despite anti-gay raid

Logo of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project
Logo of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project

Officials overseeing the AIDS services clinic in Uganda that was closed after a raid on April 3 raised hopes today that the clinic would reopen and that HIV-positive patients could continue to receive the antiretroviral therapy they depend on.

The specifics of the raid remained murky.

The clinic — officially an HIV vaccine research facility in Kampala run by the U.S. military and Makerere University — has been one of relatively few health-care facilities in the city that willingly treat LGBT people. It is run by the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), a non-profit partnership between Makerere University and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP).

MUWRP announced:

“On Thursday, April 3, 2014, a Ugandan citizen employed at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) was taken into custody by police at the project’s offices in Kampala.  The individual was released without charge the same day. We are working with police to understand the circumstances under which this person was detained.

“Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program.  We are working directly with the patients of MUWRP to ensure there is no interruption in their care. “

Ugandan officials gave conflicting accounts of the reasons for and participants in the raid, as reported by the Associated Press.

Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo (Photo by Isaac Kasamani courtesy of AFP/Getty Images)
Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo (Photo by Isaac Kasamani courtesy of AFP/Getty Images)

The project was  targeted for “training youths in homosexuality,” government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said today on Twitter. The AP story said Opondo gave no further details but said a “top diplomat” was involved in the alleged training.

In contrast, the AP story said that Patrick Onyango, a spokesman for Ugandan police, denied that police were involved in the raid. He said that a man pretending to represent the police threatened workers at the project. AP added:

[Onyango] said police were now looking for the man, after police in his jurisdiction briefly arrested him and then freed him.

“Yesterday somebody claiming to be a police officer went and arrested one of the workers there,” Onyango said. “Today the management of (the project) has decided to close the place. We are not investigating that place at all.”

BuzzFeed reported:

Ugandan officials on Wednesday raided an HIV vaccine research facility in Kampala run by the U.S. Military and Makerere University, a spokeswoman for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research confirmed to BuzzFeed.

At least one employee of the Makerere Walter Reed Project was detained, spokeswoman Debra Youric said, but it is not known whether this person was a Ugandan or U.S. citizen. Many other details remain unconfirmed, including what branch of law enforcement raided the facility and what materials may have been seized.

Following the raid, Ugandan activist Pepe Julian Onziema tweeted the facility was shut down for “conducting ‘illegal homosexual research.’”

In a later article, BuzzFeed reported that Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo had investigated the incident and found that two police officers conducted the raid, saying they were “acting on an intelligence report that the clinic was promoting homosexuality.”

He said two Ugandan employees of the project were arrested and, after U.S. Embassy personnel intervened, were soon released. He said police seized condoms, lubricants, and medical manuals related to HIV and men who have sex with men, and photographed patients at the clinic.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (Photo courtesy of Rafto Foundation)
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (Photo courtesy of Rafto Foundation)

Activist Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said a Ugandan who worked for the project had been arrested and interrogated. He said the project helped many LGBTI people who are HIV-positive.

“A lot of LGBTI people found it comfortable to go there for anti-retroviral treatment,” he said.

The raid came three days after President Yoweri Museveni, religious leaders, and thousands of others took part in a parade and thanksgiving celebration about the country’s harsh new Anti-Homosexuality Act, which provides a life sentence for homosexual activity and seven years in prison for anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality.”

Activists warned LGBT patients  to stay away from the clinic location until further notice, for their own safety.

For more information on the ramifications of the raid, see the BuzzFeed article “Police Raid On HIV Center In Uganda Could Force Showdown With International Community.”

 

 

 

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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]

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