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Uganda 19 update: 44 days in prison with no lawyers, no bail hearing

A High Court judge said the case is urgent, but a lower court didn’t budge, deciding today that 19 LGBT community members will have to stay in prison for at least 44 days without a hearing for allegedly defying Covid-19 lockdown rules.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Cosf shelter residents were paraded before the media at the police station after their arrest on March 29. (Uganda Police Force photo)

The legal advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which is representing the prisoners, has been barred from meeting with its clients and has been repeatedly denied in its demands for a bail hearing in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Last week a High Court judge issued a Certificate of Urgency, which should have cleared the way for a lower court to hear the case.

But today the magistrate in the lower court stated that the earliest that HRAPF lawyers can meet their clients is on May 12 — after 44 days in custody — which is the supposed date for a hearing.

But the magistrate expressed doubts about whether prison authorities will actually transport the prisoners to court that day.

HRAPF issued this update today:

Logo of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)

We have finally had the urgent application for access to lawyers by the 19 persons in detention in the COSF case fixed for hearing on 12th May 2020 – again the same day as the hearing in Nsangi Court.

We also went to Nsangi court today and met the Magistrate who indicated that she cannot allocate a hearing date for the bail application before she is sure that the Prisons authorities will bring the accused persons. They also informed us that there can be no hearing using video-link as the court did not have those facilities. There we think that the hearing on 12th May also will not happen. The magistrate puts the blame on the prisons authorities.

Persons facing the same charges have been given bail before by magistrates courts but our clients do not even have their case fixed for hearing. As such we have resolved to file a new application for bail in the High Court which supervises the Magistrates Court. In our application we cite the failure by the magistrates Court to fix the bail application for hearing. We have also written to the Chief Magistrate of Mpigi whose court supervises the Grade 1 Magistrates Court at Nsangi asking that the bail application be heard by that court instead.

About the case

Uganda police on March 29 arrested 23 LGBT Ugandans on charges of enabling the spread of Covid-19 by living together in a homeless shelter. Charges were preferred against 19 of the arrestees. Those men are currently remanded at Kitalya Prison.

The March 29 raid by police and army targeted the shelter of Children of the Sun Foundation Uganda (Cosf Uganda), a local LGBT organisation on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital, Kampala.  The LGBT community members were beaten and forced to take a “walk of shame” through the village from their shelter to Nkokonjeru Police Post in Kyengera town council, about 20 minutes’ drive from Kampala City.

Villagers accused the shelter residents of homosexual acts. The villagers, speaking in the Luganda language, told BBS TV that the shelter residents had an “abnormal mannerism.”