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Day 47: Lawyers finally get to see 19 jailed LGBT Ugandans

Three Ugandan human rights lawyers finally were allowed to see 19 imprisoned LGBT clients today, 47 days after the 19 were arrested.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Uganda’s Kitalya Prison

The lawyers expressed optimism that the prisoners will be released on bail after a court hearing scheduled for Monday.

Uganda police jailed the 19 LGBT Ugandans on March 29 after they and four others were arrested on charges of enabling the spread of Covid-19 by living together in a homeless shelter run by the Children of the Sun Foundation Uganda (Cosf Uganda).

Ugandan and international human rights organizations yesterday filed a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of the prisoners, who have been labeled the COSF-19.

Arrested Cosf-Uganda members during police detainee parade on March 29. (Uganda Police photo)

The petition (see below) was filed by the Washington, D.C.-based organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Ugandan LGBT rights advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), and Ugandan legal advocates at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF).

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, announced:

Today, the Prisons authorities gave three of HRAPF’s advocates: Patricia Kimera, Juliet Kanyange and myself unfettered access to the COSF-19 at Kitalya Mini Maxi Prison.

Yesterday, Uganda Prisons Headquarters wrote to the Officer in Charge of the prison directing him to allow us access.

We were able to have unlimited access and unrestricted time with the 19. They were all excited to finally see lawyers pay them a visit and commended all efforts so far made for them to access justice. They narrated their ordeal and experiences since being sent on remand and the violations that they have suffered while in detention. They all decried the discrimination that they have experienced from both the Prison warders as well as inmates, as everyone in Kitalya knows about their sexual orientation. They are subjected to taunts, insults, discrimination in access to bathroom facilities etc.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF

Two of them reported having been subjected to anal examinations – one at the Police Post in Nkokonjeru soon after being arrested and another at the prison. The prison examination was done by a non-medical inmate under the authority of one of the prison warders. This was not intended for any investigations and would thus amount to cruel and degrading treatment.

All of them looked frail as they are suffering from various ailments, including diarrhea, typhoid and malaria, most of which were acquired from prison. One of them who is HIV positive cannot access treatment, not because it is not available but because the prison authorities loudly call out any persons who are HIV positive to go and get medicines. Many who are sick do not have medicine and asked us to get them access to an assortment of medicines.

This is the announcement of the petition filed by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, SMUG and HRAPF on behalf of the LGBT detainees:

The Ugandan government has unlawfully detained 19 people under the guise of its COVID-19 response

Kampala, Uganda & Washington, DC — On May 14, 2020 Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) filed a petition before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seeking a ruling that the Ugandan government unlawfully targeted and continues to unlawfully detain 19 LGBTI people under the guise of its COVID-19 response.

Hajji Abdul Kiyimba, the mayor of local municipal council of Kyengera on the outskirts of Kampala, who led the March 28 raid on the Cosf Uganda shelter.

On March 29, 2020, the mayor of Nsangi Town Council, Hajji Abdul Kiyimba and officers of the Uganda Police Force targeted a known LGBTIQ shelter, Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), in Kyengera Town Council, arbitrarily arresting twenty-three (23) people based on their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, nineteen (19) of whom remain arbitrarily detained in state custody.

With anti-LGBTI discrimination and violence on the rise in Uganda, the government has denied rumors that it plans to reintroduce infamous “Kill the Gays” legislation — a version of which was struck down by Ugandan courts in 2014. Instead, state security forces have increased harassment of LGBTI Ugandans and advocates, using COVID-19 as cover for carrying out the latest in a string of homophobic and transphobic raids and unlawful arrests.

The 19 individuals were denied access to their lawyers for weeks before a High Court eventually ordered reasonable access be granted on May 13 in advance of a bail hearing currently scheduled for May 18. United Nations experts have previously expressed concern that Uganda is using COVID-19 emergency powers to target LGBTI people. The petition filed this week initiates a formal complaint procedure against the government of Uganda and details multiple violations of Uganda’s binding international human rights obligations.