Following Amnesty International’s recent condemnation of the intimidation of LGBT people in Uganda, more groups – including OutRage! and Human Rights Watch have slammed the outing of 45 gay men by a tabloid.
On 8 August, the Ugandan tabloid newspaper, Red Pepper, outed – under the headline “Gay Shock!” – 45 gay and bisexual men, including army officers, priests, university lecturers, entertainers, bankers, students and lawyers. It also published details of five venues popular with gays and lesbians.
Although Red Pepper did not print the outed individual’s family names (only their first names), the accompanying published details about their places of residence and work had made many of them easily identifiable. In Uganda, a sodomy conviction carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
“We deplore this indiscriminate, uncorroborated and unjustified outing of allegedly gay Ugandans,” said Andrew de Cruz of UK gay rights groups OutRage!, who has been working with and supporting the Ugandan activist groups.
“It is an unwarranted invasion of privacy which typifies the bigoted, bullying attitudes that are encouraged by the Ugandan government and churches. We call on President Museveni to uphold the international human rights laws that Uganda has signed. This means repealing the prohibition on same-sex relationships and legislating protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“It also means halting the intimidation and harassment of the lawful, non-violent Ugandan gay rights movement,” said Mr de Cruz.
Peter Tatchell, campaign coordinator of OutRage!, added:
“Uganda is the new Zimbabwe. President Yoweri Museveni is the Robert Mugabe of Uganda – a homophobic tyrant who tramples on democracy and human rights,” said Mr Tatchell.
At least five men were arrested soon after the outing list was published. It is said the police are under pressure to get tough with “sodomites”. They are now cracking down on the LGBTI community in an apparent bid to be seen taking action.
Uganda’s Gay And Lesbian Alliance (GALA) reports that two days after the outing list was published, unidentified men in army uniform attacked one of the outed gay men. He was taken to a police station where he was forced to make a statement.
A student named by Red Pepper was thrown out of home by his parents. He sought refuge with a gay couple he knew. His mother guessed where he had gone and gave the police the address. The gay couple were arrested on charges relating to homosexuality. They have subsequently been let out on bail and are now in hiding.
There are reports that Red Pepper is planning a similar mass outing of lesbian and bisexual women in the near future.
Commenting on the expected outing of women, one Ugandan lesbian activist said: “We are just waiting. I know that some women are definitely going to lose what they have; jobs, homes, families, and friends. It is time that gays and lesbians in Uganda stand together to fight the negative reporting of the press.”
A spokesperson for the Makerere University Student’s Lesbian Association (MUSLA) in Uganda said that some of the named men have been subjected to police interrogations:
“Our efforts to help out our friends who have been arrested were fruitless, since the police, under the influence of many different politicians, wanted the guys to be jailed….The gays were not allowed access to proper justice. Some of them were put in cells for more than 48 hours, which are allowed by the police and yet none of them have had the opportunity to be in court. Those who have been released on police bail, we don’t know their whereabouts. Some of our friends in the past have been arrested and put in torture houses without us knowing there whereabouts. Others have been forced to flee the country. Others have been framed. This is an appeal to the international community and every concerned person, that Uganda as a country is booked for justice. Uganda is a signatory to the international human rights declarations. Your support will be highly appreciated,” concluded the Musla statement.
Victor Juliet Mukasa, chair of Sexual Minorities Uganda, says many gay Ugandans are sick and tired of being pilloried by the Ugandan media, church and political parties. They are “absolutely fed up, determined to defend themselves and no longer ready to be intimidated by exposures and abuse,” she said in a statement relayed to the LGBTI human rights movement OutRage!, in London, which has been working closely with Ugandan LGBTI activists.
New York based Human Rights Watch commented that the “decision to publish the names of alleged homosexuals is a chilling development”.
“For years, President Yoweri Museveni’s government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual-rights activists to harassment,” said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program of Human Rights Watch. “At a moment when sensational publicity has spread fear among a whole community, the authorities must exercise their responsibility to protect, not persecute.”