Anger is brewing in the gay community at home and abroad, as a criminal case against the chairman of a sexual minorities group starts today at the Nabweru Magistrate’s court in Wakiso district.
Samuel Ganafa, executive director of Spectrum Uganda and chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, was arrested last week and paraded before the media by the police. He is accused of infecting one Disan Twesiga with HIV, although it is unclear how it happened.
Ganafa, who has been detained at Kasangati prison, says he was tested for HIV against his consent and his home raided without a search warrant. He was briefly detained with Bernard Randell and Albert Cheptoyek, who are both facing related charges.
Randell, a 65-year-old retired British expatriate, was charged with trafficking in obscene publications. The two were arrested after Randell reported a taxi driver, one Eric Bugembe, to the police for reportedly stealing his laptop. The laptop, it is said, contained videos of Randell performing acts of homosexuality with Cheptoyek, evidence that was produced in court.
Bugembe told the police that he had taken the laptop after Randell refused to pay him after luring him into sexual acts. Randell, who has since been released on bail, and Cheptoyek, who is still in detention, return to court in Entebbe on December 4.
These two cases have attracted the ire of gay activists, who last week demonstrated outside the Uganda High Commission in London, protesting what they called the witch-hunt of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda.
The protests follow a similar demonstration outside the just concluded Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, at which Uganda was mentioned amongst the Commonwealth nations violating the rights of LGBT people. Gay rights activists say homosexual people in Uganda live in fear of a police crackdown similar to the one that netted Ganafa, Randell and Cheptoyek.
Peter Tatchell, director of the UK-based Peter Tatchell Foundation, a gay rights organisation, says homophobic harassment of gay people violates Uganda’s constitution as well as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
Criminalisation of homosexuality is contrary to human rights obligations, which Uganda has agreed and pledged to uphold, Tatchell argues. LGBT activists who gathered outside Uganda’s high commission last week asked the British government to intervene immediately in Randell’s case to secure his safe return to the UK.
They also want Britain and the European Union to declare Uganda an unsafe place for LGBT people and issue travel warnings to potential tourists and expatriates accordingly. The activists also called for travel bans targeting outspoken anti-LGBT activists such as Ethics minister Simon Lokodo, MP David Bahati and pastors Martin Ssempa and Solomon Male.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in Uganda as they are in many sub-Saharan African countries. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill tabled in parliament a couple of years ago sought to further criminalise such sexual behaviour by proposing a death penalty for repeat offenders and those accused of transmitting HIV in the process.
However, pressure from Western countries has seen the bill amended to remove the death penalty and then shelved. Nevertheless, homosexuality remains an offence under the Penal Code.
Early this month, the European Court of Justice ruled that people fleeing from a country where homosexuality is criminalised, like Uganda, can seek asylum on that basis. The ruling, which binds all EU member countries, including Britain, followed an application for asylum by three homosexuals from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal.