HIV+ patients get meds; Uganda, U.S. argue over raid

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

HIV-positive patients of a shuttered U.S.-funded health clinic in Kampala, Uganda, continue to receive their medication, even as officials of the two countries squabble over what led to the April 3 police raid and the so-far temporary closing of the clinic.

The U.S. State Department has blamed the Ugandan government for the raid, which was the first prominent assault on an AIDS health center after  the recent enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. That law calls for 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.”

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf
“We are deeply concerned” about the Uganda raid, said U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf

The State Department disputed the accuracy of a Ugandan police press release that claimed their undercover police “infiltrated” the health project to verify a report that it “was carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sexual acts.

“The incident has significantly heightened our concerns about respect for civil society and rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals,” the State Department said. “We believe the police raided [the project] due to its connection with the U.S. Government based on the principled stance we have taken in support of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world.”

Uganda police claimed that the combined clinic and research facility, which operated as the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP):

  • “Targeted youth between the ages of 18 and 25.”
  • Showed its trainees “videos of men engaging in homosexual activity, and they were encouraged to bring along their sexual partners.”
  • Gave trainees “literature describing safe sexual practice between males, as well as condoms and lubricant.”
  • Paid trainees “UGX 10,000 to UGX 100,000 [US$4 to $40] as transport refund, at the end of each training session.”
  • Showed “a same-sex pornographic film” to “a large number of participants.”

Police had initially denied that they conducted the raid, saying instead that a man pretending to represent the police had threatened workers at the project.

The State Department said that “at present, all lifesaving HIV services supported by the Project are being maintained, and MUWRP is working directly with its patients to ensure there is no interruption in their care moving forward.”

Activists at the gay-friendly Youth on Rock Foundation urged their HIV-positive members to continue their ARV therapy. “Please don’t stop taking your medicine,” the group said on Facebook. “You can go and collect them. … If you’re fearing to go there, please call me. (I) will help you.”

This is the latest State Department statement about the clinic, as reported on the Science Speaks blog.

  • U.S. Department of State seal
    U.S. Department of State seal

    We remain deeply concerned by Ugandan authorities’ April 3 raid on the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility. We are also concerned by the arrest of one of the facility’s employees, allegedly for conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.” The incident has significantly heightened our concerns about respect for civil society and rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals.

  • We are aware that on April 8 Ugandan police issued a press release that made spurious allegations about the activities of MUWRP employees, including patently false assertions about events occurring on April 4. We believe the police raided MUWRP due to its connection with the U.S. Government based on the principled stance we have taken in support of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world.
  • The Makerere University Walter Reed Project is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives. It conducts important research and services related to Ebola, Marburg disease, and HIV/AIDS. We’re committed to continuing that work, but have suspended temporarily the MUWRP’s operations to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program.
  • Attacks on and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable. The safety of health workers must be respected.
  • At present, all lifesaving HIV services supported by the Project are being maintained, and MUWRP is working directly with its patients to ensure there is no interruption in their care moving forward.

This is the April 8 statement by police spokesperson Fred Enanga on the Ugandan Police Force Facebook page:

Uganda Police Force logo
Uganda Police Force logo

On 15th March, 2014, Police received a report that an NGO based in Nakasero area of Kampala [the Makerere University Walter Reed Project] was carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sexual acts.

Police deployed crime intelligence officers to verify the claims, by infiltrating the project. Two officers undertook the assignment.

The officers were registered for training by the NGO, and given identification numbers. The training targeted youth between the ages of 18 and 25.

Fred Enanga of the Uganda Police Force (Photo courtesy of ChimpReport.com)
Fred Enanga of the Uganda Police Force (Photo courtesy of ChimpReport.com)

The trainees were shown videos of men engaging in homosexual activity, and they were encouraged to bring along their sexual partners.

The trainees were further given literature describing safe sexual practice between males, as well as condoms and lubricant. They were each paid between UGX. 10,000 to UGX. 100,000, as transport refund, at the end of each training session.

On 4th of April, 2014, crime intelligence officers observed a large number of participants being shown a same-sex pornographic film. The officers identified themselves to the facilitators, and asked for an explanation on what was happening.

On learning of the presence of the Police, the participants fled. One of the facilitators accompanied the officers to Jinja Road Police Station to assist in investigation, and was later released.

The NGO later complained to the Inspector-General of Police of harassment and unprofessional conduct by the officers involved, and the IGP has directed the Professional Standards Unit to investigate.

In the meantime, we appeal to all persons who may have participated in this training, or have information that could assist the Police in the investigation, to volunteer such information to the Police.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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