As Uganda headed into a renewed Covid-19 lockdown, LGBT rights advocates reported that all 42 people arrested at the Happy Family Youth Uganda Limited shelter on May 31 have been released on bail.
LGBT rights supporters, led by the legal services organization HRAPF, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, reported that the arrestees had been generally well treated by officials at Kitalya Prison, but were mistreated by prisoners and, earlier, by police.
Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, suggested that prison official had learned from their experience last year, when another mass arrest at an LGBT shelter eventually led to lawsuits charging that the prisoners arrested at the Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF) shelter were tortured at Kitalya Prison.
“Unlike the last time that a large group of LGBT persons were detained in Kitalya prison, this time they reported that they were generally treated with respect and care — which perhaps is an indicator that the authorities learnt a thing or two from the suits we filed last year during the COSF case,” Jjuuko stated.
This time, 42 had been charged with violating Covid-19 regulations after police arrested 44 people at a party on May 31 that they believed was a gay wedding. All 42 pleaded not guilty. The timing of future court action, including a trial, is unclear because Uganda has declared a new lockdown in response to rising levels of Covid-19 infections.
Jjuuko issued this report about today’s proceedings:
Final Update on Happy Family 44
All 42 persons charged are now out of prison!
I am happy to report that we now have all the 42 persons on the Happy Family shelter raid charge sheet out on bail. The first batch of 26 was released today at about 3pm while the last batch of 6 was released at about 6.30pm. The process of clearing them from prison started at 10am.
The first batch has arrived at the place where they are to be staying for the next three days and the second one will join them hours later. The 26 paid a courtesy visit to the HRAPF offices first thing before they even got to their hotel. They gave us a big ‘Asante sana’ and asked us to send their regards to all the partners who have worked hard to ensure their release. All the 39 are largely upbeat although three of them are unwell. These have been sent for immediate medical attention.
Unlike the last time that a large group of LGBT persons were detained in Kitalya prison, this time they reported that they were generally treated with respect and care – which perhaps is an indicator that the authorities learnt a thing or two from the suits we filed last year during the COSF case. On Friday the prison authorities assured us that the detainees were being treated well and that they were committed to protecting them. The detainees however reported being mistreated by other prisoners, particularly leaders in prison. We shall get more details of these abuses at the full debriefing which starts tomorrow.
They also confirmed mistreatment while at the police station. Besides the anal examinations, police officers were rough with them and insulted them and at some point some were slapped. That the police continue to hold their personal property. The Police also continues to deny the managers of the shelter from where the arrests took place access to the shelter. This is a matter that we are also going to actively follow up on. These are matters we are going to follow up with the Police after the debrief.
Tomorrow we shall start the debriefing and documentation process which will take three days as partners consider the different alternatives on where they are going to be staying moving forward.
Their trial now awaits – but it may be some time in the future as the Chief Justice today has announced measures which will see the judiciary working at far less than the normal capacity for the next 42 days. This is due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections. This will certainly mean that their court hearing scheduled for 8th July may not take place as it falls within the 42 days. We also were lucky to have had our bail application decided on Friday as the new measures would have made it way much harder – perhaps akin to the 2020 COSF case where we had to get a court order just to meet the detainees. If we are given a new date for the court hearing, we shall communicate, but we are also going to work with the authorities to point out the absurdity of the charges against the 42 and hope for a withdrawal of charges.
We are also following up on the case of one of the 44 who is in military detention. Our attempts to find them on Friday did not yield results as the military denied holding them. However, we now have confirmation about where the person is detained and we are planning to apply for a writ of habeus corpus so that they are produced in court.
The new COVID-19 inspired ban on travel across districts and the partial closure of courts will definitely make our work significantly slower, but we shall try our best.
We thank all partners for the support which has brought us this far. We specifically thank the partners who spent today with us at Kitalya – Happy Family; Lets Walk Uganda; Children of the Sun Foundation; Initiative for Rescue and those who came on Friday night including Kuchu Shiners Uganda. This is much appreciated as sometimes the wait for the release can get very lonely and their presence helped to put a smile on the faces of those released. Much appreciated.