Uganda: COVID-19 Used as Pretext to Harass LGBTI+ Community and Journalists

Street view Kampala, Uganda

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has declared a nationwide shutdown to tackle the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown includes restrictions on movement of people. Security forces are conducting patrols in order to enforce the restrictions. Reports of excessive force used by the security forces, including assault and arrests, have emerged and many fear that those who are already most vulnerable will be among the primary targets for government-sanctioned repression. 

The nationwide shutdown was announced after Uganda recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on 22 March. All public transport, including the use of privately-owned cars and motorcycles, has been banned. Shopping malls, non-food markets, and bars have been closed down.   

Crackdown on the Ugandan LGBTI+ Community 

The police, the army, and the Local Defense Unit (LDU) are conducting patrols in order to enforce the restrictions on movement. However, the authorities are using the enforcement of the restrictions as an excuse to crack down on the LGBTI+ community, according to reports by our Ugandan partner organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda

On 29 March, officers of the Ugandan Police Force raided an LGBTI+ shelter in Kyengera Town Council outside the capital Kampala. Twenty-three residents and visitors were arbitrarily arrested and charged with engaging in a “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease”, according to a police statement. After spending one night in custody, four people were released on health grounds. The remaining nineteen are being held in Kitalya Prison until 28 April, when they will be brought to court.  

“The charge against the shelter residents appear contradictory to the Presidential Directive on COVID-19 that essentially requires people to stay at home, this was precisely what the 23 shelter residents were doing. The invasion and arrests were however carried out from a homophobic stance,” said SMUG in a recent statement.  

Attacks Against Journalists in Line of Duty Met with Impunity

Another one of our partners, the Ugandan Human Rights Coalition, reports that human rights violations and abuses are continuing amid the ongoing pandemic. Through a press statement by the Legal Service Providers Network, we have received information about Ugandans who have been beaten and tortured by security agents in the wake of the presidential directives.   

Journalists in the line of duty have also become targets after Museveni’s directives entered into force.  The Ugandan Human Rights Network for journalists reports that at least seven journalists in different parts of the country have been assaulted and injured. The attacks are met with impunity as police officers are unwilling to investigate the cases further.   

We Are Watching 

While some restrictions on human rights may be necessary to fight the spread of the coronavirus, others are not. We remind the Ugandan government that using the pandemic as an excuse to harass journalists, the LGBTI+ community, and human rights defenders is not acceptable. 

Civil Rights Defenders urges the Ugandan government to ensure that its security forces refrain from using excessive force and to ensure the safety and security of Ugandan citizens, especially journalists in the line of duty. We further call on the Ugandan government to immediately cease all attacks against LGBTI+ Ugandans, and to take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against this group. 

We will continue to monitor the situation together with our partner organisations and call out human rights violations as they unfold. 

We Are Watching.

Authoritarian governments must not use the corona pandemic as an excuse to repress human rights or silence critical voices. We are watching you. We will call out human rights violations and hold you accountable. Keep track of the world with us here.

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