Ugandan officials have blocked lawyers from communicating with any of the 19 prisoners arrested March 29 at an LGBT homeless shelter near Kampala. The detainees, most of whom lived at the shelter, were charged with violating anti-Covid-19 rules against public gatherings. They have now been held for 26 days without being convicted of anything or allowed to apply for bail..
The men are imprisoned 55 kilometers outside the city awaiting an April 28 court date (revised from April 29, which had been the scheduled date).
Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the legal advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which is representing the prisoners, issued this statement today (April 24):
Yesterday, the Commissioner General of Prisoners responded to our letter requesting access to the 19 persons in Kitalya Prison. They denied HRAPF lawyers access giving the reason as the COVID-19 lockdown. These same persons are due in Court on 28th April 2020 for the hearing of the case against them – not 29th April as we had earlier been informed.
We believe that this denial without any other options such as video teleconferencing or telephone access, is unconstitutional as Article 28(3)(c) of Uganda’s Constitution requires that a person charged with a criminal offence is given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence. This right is non derogable- and even in a state of emergency, which Uganda has not yet declared.
HRAPF intends to file an urgent application in the High Court demanding access to the clients before the hearing date and a suit challenging the decision of the Prisons authorities as unconstitutional.
We shall be providing a detailed update later, but we want to use this opportunity to ask everyone to beef up advocacy and activism efforts as we have only two days to the hearing date. [Editor’s note: There are only two business days before Aug. 28.]