Uganda Witch Hunt Escalates

Uganda Witch Hunt Escalates

Police, press linked to officialdom unleash campaign against lesbians, gay men

A new police crackdown has begun in the ongoing anti-gay witch hunt in Uganda, kicked off in August with the public outing of 45 alleged homosexuals by a daily newspaper belonging to a government minister.

The police in Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city, have “launched an operation to repress the gays, who were on the verge of winning the heterosexual generation of the district,” announced the September 7 issue of the popular sex-and-scandal tabloid daily newspaper Red Pepper under the screaming headline, “JINJA COPS HUNT FOR GAYS.”

The newspaper called on the public to cooperate in tracking down “sodomites” to prevent them from “polluting” the general population, published the photo of a young gay man who was said to have intimate links to a man already imprisoned in for homosexuality—punishable with life incarceration in Uganda—and urged its readers to help track him down.

The next day, September 8, under the headline “KAMPALA’S NOTORIOUS LESBIANS UNEARTHED,” Red Pepper published the names of 13 alleged lesbians, including two boutique owners, a basketball player, and the daughters of a former member of Parliament and of a prominent sheikh.

“To rid our motherland of the deadly vice, we are committed to exposing all the lesbos in the city” of Kampala, the nation’s capital, the newspaper proclaimed, while telling its readers to “send more names” with “the name and occupation of the lesbin [sic] in your neighborhood and we shall shame her.” The newspaper also gave its readers a special telephone number to call with tips on alleged same-sexers.

The latest anti-gay crusade in Uganda was launched on August 8, when Red Pepper, under the banner headline “GAY SHOCK!” published the names of 45 allegedly gay and bisexual men. Those outed by the newspaper included lawyers, army officers, university lecturers, entertainers, bankers, students, and priests. Red Paper listed the profession, the city of origin, and in some cases information on the friends and partners of those accused of being gay, most of whom were from Kampala and its suburbs. It also listed venues popular with gays and lesbians.

There are reports, which Gay City News has not been able to confirm, that some of the outed men were arrested after their names appeared in the daily. The French gay magazine Tetu quoted a gay Ugandan exile living in France as saying that many of the others “have fled the country if they had the means to do so—principally to Europe, since the only African country in which they would not be persecuted is South Africa.”

Ugandan gay activists regard the outings by the newspaper as an open invitation to gay-bashers to violently attack lesbians and gay men.

According to the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, which has been working closely with Ugandan gay groups, Red Pepper is owned by Salim Saleh, the half-brother of the notoriously homophobic president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Saleh is now minister of state for microfinance in the Ugandan government.

When it kicked off its outing campaign on August 8, Red Pepper proclaimed its homophobic editorial policy.

“To a majority of us, straight thinking citizens, [homosexuality] is an abominable sin, actually a mortal sin that goes against the nature of humanity,” snarled the newspaper when it outed the first batch of 45 men it said are gay. “We are talking about men in this nation who are walking closely in the footsteps of Sir Elton Hercules John and the like by having engines that operate from the rear like the vintage Volkswagen cars. To show the nation how shocked we are and how fast the terrible vice known as sodomy is eating up our society, we have decided to unleash an exclusive list of men who enjoy taking on fellow men from the rear.”

A spokesperson for the Makerere University Student’s Lesbian Association (MUSLA) in Uganda told OutRage! that homosexuals have been subjected to torture in police custody.

“Some of our friends in the past have been arrested and put in torture houses without us knowing their whereabouts. Others have been forced to flee the country. Others have been framed,” the MUSLA activist said.

“The police called some of the boys in the list [published by Red Pepper],” the activist continued. “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… yet none of them has had the opportunity to be in court. Those who have been released on bail—we don’t know their whereabouts.”

Sexual Minorities in Uganda (SMUG)—a coalition of three LGBT organizations: Freedom and Roam Uganda, Spectrum Uganda, and Integrity Uganda—says on its Web site that, under President Museveni’s regime, “we have got more and more miserable as LGBT people in Uganda… The hate campaigns engaged in by political leaders have also devastated lives. Many constantly live in fear of arrest or rape.” SMUG also says that officially-sanctioned homophobia “has also led to increased deaths among the LGBT people from suicide.”

Last July, police raided the home of SMUG’s chair, lesbian activist Juliet Victor Mukasa, seizing documents and arresting another lesbian activist. Mukasa said those named in the new outing campaign are “living under unbelieveable fear of being arrested, ostracized by their families, or sacked from their jobs.”

On July 6, the minister for ethics and integrity, Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, attacked homosexuals for using the media to promote immorality and pornography. “Years back, these people were unheard of and alien to our African culture. It is an abomination for them to shamelessly demand for a law protecting their interests,” he said.

Another Ugandan lesbian activist told OutRage! that Red Pepper’s outing of the lesbians means that “some women are definitely going to lose what they have—jobs, homes, families, and friends.”

Human Rights Watch last week denounced the new outing campaign. “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 (HRW). “At a moment when sensational publicity has spread fear among a whole community, the authorities must exercise their responsibility to protect, not persecute.”

HRW also noted, “State-owned media have repeatedly called for stronger measures against homosexual conduct. On July 6, 2005, a writer in the government-owned New Vision newspaper urged authorities to crack down on homosexuality, saying, ‘The police should visit the holes mentioned in the press, spy on the perverts, arrest and prosecute them. Relevant government departments must outlaw or restrict Web sites, magazines, newspapers, and television channels promoting immorality—including homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, etc.’”

In October 2004, the country’s information minister, James Nsaba Buturo, ordered police to investigate and “take appropriate action against” a gay association organized at Makerere University. In March 2002, while accepting an award for his country’s HIV/AIDS prevention programs, Museveni said simply, “We don’t have homosexuals in Uganda.”

HRW noted in a report last year on the country’s HIV prevention efforts that Uganda’s AIDS programs “intrinsically discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. With a legal ban in place against gay or lesbian relationships, the programs promote only permanent abstinence and are uniformly silent about safer sexual practices.”

Moreover, on August 16, the Toronto daily Globe and Mail reported on the case of a 22- year-old Ugandan, Emmanuel Ndyanabo, who was “chased out of his native country this month for wanting to attend the International AIDS Conference in Toronto.” The Canadian daily wrote, “Ndyanabo has applied for refugee status in Canada for fear of being persecuted if he returns to Uganda.”

“Ndyanabo is gay, and being a homosexual in Uganda is a crime that comes with a life term in prison,” the Globe and Mail reported. “He has already been arrested for running a counseling service for HIV-positive kuchus (homosexuals) in Kampala and his family blamed him for his father’s death last year.

“Somehow, because I am gay, that killed my father, they say,” Ndyanabo told the newspaper, which reported, “So when he was granted a bursary this month to attend the Toronto conference, he saw it as a long-awaited sign of hope to meet and speak with others like himself. But at the airport, a customs official told him they were on the lookout for people wanting to attend this summit.”

“‘He [still] stamped my passport, looked at me and said, ‘I wish you luck. But do not come back if [security] let[s] you through,’” Ndyanabo told the Globe and Mail.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at