A Ugandan cabinet minister has raided a workshop run by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in Entebbe, prompting Amnesty International to call on the government to end its harassment of people involved in lawful activities.
Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo, accompanied by police, announced on Feb. 14 that the workshop was illegal and ordered the rights activists out of the hotel where it was being held. Lokodo told activists that if they did not leave immediately, he would use force against them, according to a report from Amnesty International.
“This is an outrageous attempt to prevent lawful and peaceful activities of human rights defenders in Uganda,” said AI security general Salil Shetty.
The minister, who is a Catholic priest, also attempted to arrest Kasha Jacqueline Nabagasera, a prominent LGBT rights activist and winner of the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The activist was forced to flee from the hotel.
“The government of Uganda must protect all people against threats, violence and harassment irrespective of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” Shetty said.
The raid occurred days after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was re-tabled in the Ugandan Parliament. The government has sought to distance itself from the bill, stating that the bill did not enjoy leadership support.
“The government's claimed opposition to the bill needs to be supported through their actions. The Ugandan government must allow legitimate, peaceful gatherings of human rights defenders, including those working on LGBT rights,” Shetty.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would increase the punishment to life in prison for gay-related offenses. Anyone failing to report to the authorities a person they knew to be gay would also be liable to prosecution.
Under the revised bill, those found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality" – defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a “serial offender” – would no longer face the death penalty.
A parliamentary committee recommended the revision, after the original legislation was condemned by Western leaders, including Barack Obama who described it as “odious” and threatened to cut off aid to Uganda.
The bill was first introduced in 2009.