Ugandan Police Raids LGBT Friendly Bar And Results in the Charge Of 67 People 1

Jonathan Stephen
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According to the Independent, 67 people have been charged by a Ugandan court after the police had raided a lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) friendly bar “considered to be one of the few safe spaces left for the LGBT+ community in the capital of Kampala.”

PinkNews claimed that the “police reportedly arrested 127 people on Monday, 11 November, for “frequenting a smoking place” in RAM Bar – however, the bar also serves as an underground gay-friendly space for Ugandans.” Thomson Reuters, reported that Patricia Kimera, the lawyer for the group had said that the 67 that had been charged could face up to one year in jail if found ‘guilty’. 

LGBT activist Raymond Karuhanga, told Reuters that the raid and arrests are “just a homophobic attack” adding: “these were people in a club, not even on the streets,” he said. “They were having fun, listening to music. Then you arrest almost 130 and charge them with being a public nuisance…” 

VOA reported that Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson said that they [police] had received intelligence that the bar operates as a massage parlor through the day and for opium and shisha smoking during the night. According to VOA, both “are outlawed in the Tobacco Control Act 2015 and people found guilty of using them are liable for a fine of $130 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.” 

Further, VOA reported that Onyango said “we are charging them under the Tobacco Control Act,” adding: “we have started the process of screening and recording statements from them. There are those we shall give police bonds, students, and those who claim that they are innocent. They were just there for a dance and they were not participating in the smoking.”

VOA reported that Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, “says the arrests [on] Monday are based on trumped-up charges by the police,” adding: “we don’t know what will happen next. I think we are still looking at the worst. I think it’s totally aimed at intimidation of the LGBT Community.”

The Independent said, “Uganda has stringent anti-LGBT+ laws, ‘Carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ is punishable by life imprisonment – an amended carry-over from the laws of British colonial rule.” Reuters added that “Uganda is one of the most difficult countries in Africa to be a sexual minority.”

What is important to recognise here is that the LGBT community and their human rights are being negotiated as a privilege rather than a normative asset. This also brings into question the transparency of the arrests including the questioning process, given the police have said they have charged 67 people through the Tabacco act, not explicitly, because of sexual orientation. 

Reuters, said that “campaigners have reported a spate of attacks this year, including four murders. The latest was on Oct. 4 when a gay rights activist was bludgeoned to death. Adding: “Last month, 16 LGBT+ activists were detained and charged for having gay sex after police raided their charity office and residence, forcing them to undergo anal examinations.” The activist Karuhanga, said: “they just want to silence us as a community.” 

The situation of the LGBT+ community in Uganda is facing a situation where the freedom to assemble has been suffocated. Further, the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill potentially being reintroduced demonstrates the current culture and context for the LGBT community in Uganda. With the government stance being anti-LGBT+, and a growing number of threats to this community, I believe it is imperative that non-governmental organisations and wider civil society negotiate safe spaces and work with the community in Uganda, to respond to legal/social/economic and political rights that are knitted into national systems, not perceived as a commodity.