Letter to Uganda police: Let’s chat about anti-gay brutality

Sylvia Tamale (Photo courtesy of african.cam.ac.uk)
Sylvia Tamale (Photo courtesy of african.cam.ac.uk)

If LGBT-friendly Ugandan scholar Sylvia Tamale has her way, the Ugandan district police commander in charge of an anti-LGBT raid on Aug. 4 will meet her over a cup of tea to discuss tolerance. That invitation was contained in an open letter from Tamale, published in The Observer, that chided police for brutality, illegal arrests and human rights violations.

Using the respectful Swahili term “afande,” she addressed the letter to Isaac Mugerwa, district police commander of the Kabalagala police station:

Open letter to Isaac Mugerwa – DPC, Kabalagala police station

District Police Commander Isaac Mugerwa (Photo courtesy of The Observer)
District Police Commander Isaac Mugerwa (Photo courtesy of The Observer)

Dear Afande Mugerwa,

We have never met but I am reaching out to you as my clan ‘brother’.  The Uganda Police Force has dominated the news in the past few weeks for its excessive force and display of political partiality.

Many of us are still reeling from the shock of the social media video of the police vehicle that deliberately knocked down a citizen who was simply exercising his freedom of expression.  And even as your institution was still in the media spotlight, you decided to lend further credence to the brutality stories.

On August [4], a group of Ugandan citizens organized a private event which included a pageant and get-together party at Club Venom in Kabalagala. There were at least 300 revelers in the club enjoying the lively but peaceful event until around 10:30pm when you unleashed two dozen police officers on the club.

Armed with AK-47 rifles, they swung their batons at the unarmed and shocked revelers; they kicked, slapped, grabbed and handcuffed; they roughed them up and threw them onto pickup trucks.

People run amok and many were injured in the process.  With you in the lead, your officers caused such mayhem that several revelers panicked and jumped from the fourth floor of the club, one of them seriously injuring his spinal cord and is still confined to a hospital bed.

After invoking all this mayhem, you crowned it with the illegal arrests of several of the group, treating them like animals. They were groped, poked, abused and some were even stripped naked. The disgust and anger in your voice made them feel sub-human.

But Afande, the fact is that homosexual and transgender individuals are human beings that deserve the same dignity as you. What law had they broken?

Even if you believed that they had broken the law, couldn’t you and your officers follow the professional code that you swore to adhere to when you were recruited into the force?  How can you engage in an act of ‘mob justice’ when you’re supposed to prevent the same?  Even suspected criminals do not deserve such degrading treatment.

Is it really right to abuse people for being who they are? I’m sure that even those Ugandan taxpayers that hate homosexuals very much would rather see you and your colleagues channel your resources to matters that really harm them like child kidnappers, murderers, rapists, burglars, corrupt government officials and traffic law violators.

Finally, I kindly request that on one of your days-off, we meet over a cup of tea and have a friendly discussion about diversity, tolerance, love, and empathy and all those good things taught by the Holy books.

Respectfully yours,
Sylvia Tamale,
Makerere University

Paired with Tamale’s letter the Observer also published a letter from another reader who praised police for the raid:

We must commend the police on homosexuality in Uganda

I strongly commend the Ethics and Integrity minister Simon Lokodo for his fight against lesbianism by exposing their illicit activities and educating the general public about the need to protect our cultural values and beliefs

Recently, a group of Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) members assembled at Club Venom in Kabalagala for a meeting without police clearance. Uganda police was subsequently alerted and the assembly was disbanded and they were cautioned.

As a country, we need to strengthen the defence of our cultural and Christian beliefs in order to protect our family traditions from internal and external threats.

The Bible vividly points out in Leviticus 18: 22: “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”.

The time is now for us to come out and protect Ugandan children that are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies and increased attempts by homosexuals such as those that were planning a “Gay Parade”.

Let us keep in mind the values that our nation has been built on so that we can protect our cherished cultural, legal, religious, and traditional family values against the new attempts of sexual rights activists.

Mariam Namyalo

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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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