19 LGBT+ people detained during a raid on an LGBT+ shelter in Uganda have been granted legal counsel by a court after being held for more than six weeks under COVID-19 crisis powers.
On March 29, authorities in Uganda raided the LGBT+ shelter, the Children of the Sun Foundation, and put in detention 23 queer people citing a ban on gatherings of more than 10 in one place under COVID-19 containment measures. 13 gay men, two bisexual men, and four transgender women were arrested.
The Children of the Sun Foundation acts as a shelter for LGBT+ youth who are vulnerable to severe violence and discrimination in Uganda – where their sexuality carries a life sentence. It has been reported by the Human Rights Watch that three of the people detained were living with HIV, however it is not known whether they had access to anti-retroviral treatment while in prison.
Four people were released on medical grounds, the remaining 19 LGBT+ youths charged with committing “a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” and “disobedience of lawful orders.” They are due in court on May 18 but have had no access to legal counselling for six weeks.
A court granted legal representatives access to the LGBT+ youths during a ruling on Wednesday. Executive Director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), Adrian Jjuuko, said, “It’s been a long battle, so we’re excited by today’s ruling because I think the High Court recognises that even during COVID-19 the right to a fair hearing is non-negotiable.”
On May 11, the director of Human Rights Watch, Mausi Segun, said, “Prosecuting authorities should drop charges and release 19 Ugandan youth who have committed no crime. It is not a crime to be homeless and live in a shelter, and the ongoing detention of the shelter residents is arbitrary, abusive, and contrary to public health.”
In October 2019, a minister proposed introducing the death penalty for gay sex. Following condemnation from international parties, the government denied it had any plans to do so. A senior LGBT+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch spoke out against the authorities harsh actions towards the community in 2019, “Whether it’s arresting victims threatened by a mob or rounding up revellers at a bar on trumped-up drug charges, Ugandan police are stooping to new lows in their persecution of people for being LGBT.”
Authorities are seizing upon emergency powers to target LGBT+ youths and keep them imprisoned. The defendants’ lawyer, Patricia Kimera told Sky News, “These charges are usually put against LGBT people to ‘teach them a lesson’. Ok – go there on remand even if the case doesn’t proceed, even if it gets dismissed – but let us teach you a lesson.”
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