Ugandan court frees dozens of gay men

A court in Uganda has granted bail to 39 people, most of them gay men, held for days after what police said was a raid on a same-sex wedding that violated coronavirus rules, but which a rights group described as a round-up at an LGBT shelter.

Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMU), told Reuters 17 of the men had been subjected to rectal examinations in police custody, in what he called a “witch hunt against the LGBT community”.

Police spokesman Luke Owoyesigyire denied that the arrests were linked to the sexuality of the people who were detained, or that any of them had been subjected to rectal exams. The group “were charged with engaging in activities likely to spread an infectious disease” for breaking coronavirus rules at a same-sex wedding in a suburb of Kampala, he told Reuters.

The defendants did not appear in court because of COVID-19 restrictions. Adrian Jjuko, a lawyer for some of the defendants, told Reuters that he and other lawyers for the group had begun processing their release from jail after Friday’s hearing.

Same-sex intercourse is illegal in Uganda, and President Yoweri Museveni has campaigned against gays.

Although the government has typically held back from prosecuting people solely over their sexuality, many LGBT+ Ugandans, facing ostracism and threats, live in shelters funded by rights groups.

Mugisha said remarks by Museveni during an election campaign this year had provoked more anti-gay sentiment.

In 2014, Uganda’s parliament provoked an international outcry by passing a law imposing a life sentence for certain categories of same-sex intercourse. That law was voided by a court ruling.

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