Queer Ugandans sue authorities after alleged torture in prison

queer uganda sue authorities Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum prison torture coronavirus
Photo: Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum

Twenty LGBT people in Uganda have sued authorities for alleged torture in prison after their arrest during coronavirus lockdown.

In late March authorities arrested the gay and bisexual men and four trans women at a shelter in Kampala where they were staying.

Harrowing footage showed the men whipped, interrogated, searched and publicly shamed during the arrest (pictured).

One of the men said he still bears scars after the local mayor repeatedly beat him with a cane.

Prosecutors later charged the group of 20 with “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” during COVID-19 lockdown.

But activists condemned the arrests and accused authorities of exploiting coronavirus restrictions to target LGBTIQ people.

The 20 Ugandans spent almost 50 days on remand in prison, without access to lawyers for the first 42.

Prosecutors finally released them in May after pressure from human rights groups.

Uganda lawsuit alleges unlawful torture in prison

Now the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) has filed the lawsuit on their behalf. The suit claims the group of queer Ugandans suffered “cruel and inhuman” torture in prison.

The group allegedly endured “taunting, flogging, scalding, [and] subjection to corporal punishment” while on remand.

In one instance, a senior official is accused of ordering one man to strip and then burning him with a piece of firewood between his thighs.

Prison staff also allegedly denied the detainees food, sanitary facilities and medication. Some of the men arrested are HIV-positive.

HRAPF filed the suits against Attorney-General William Byaruhanga, the prison’s deputy officer Philimon Woniala, local mayor Hajji Abdul Kiyimba, and Kyengera town council.

While Uganda has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and passed laws outlawing it, HRAPF claims enforcement is patchy.

Executive Director Dr Adrian Jjuuko said Uganda was using COVID-19 restrictions “disproportionately against the poor and most vulnerable sections of society.”

Jjuuko said the 20 were homeless youths sheltering in place after the President ordered everyone to stay at home due to COVID-19.

He claimed their arrest was “wrong and unlawful” as the group were following, rather than flouting, the government directives.

In Uganda, gay sex is punishable by life imprisonment.

Elsewhere, Sudan last week abolished the death penalty for homosexuality. However, the threat of imprisonment remains for queer Sudanese.

Last month, the Central African nation of Gabon voted to decriminalise homosexuality.

Other African states including Angola, Seychelles, Mozambique and Botswana have also recently made steps forward.

According to the UK-based Human Rights Trust, 72 jurisdictions around the world still criminalise same-sex relations.

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