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Amnesty: Repression on Rise in Uganda

  • Selah Hennessy

A 26-year-old gay Ugandan man, who insisted on anonymity because of fears for his safety, speaks to The Associated Press, in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2014.

A 26-year-old gay Ugandan man, who insisted on anonymity because of fears for his safety, speaks to The Associated Press, in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2014.

State repression is on the rise in Uganda, according to the rights group Amnesty International, as it documents legislation that has been enacted during the past year and half. Analysts say fundamental human rights are being violated.

The Amnesty International report published on Thursday put the spotlight on three laws that have been enacted in the past 18 months: The Public Order Management Act, the anti-Pornography Act and the now nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Amnesty said that while the Anti-Homosexuality Act was in force, people who identified as, or were perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, or LGBTI, were arbitrarily arrested. It said some were beaten and groped by police.

The law was declared invalid by Uganda’s Constitutional Court in August, but Amnesty’s Sarah Jackson said repercussions remained.

“There is still quite deep-seated homophobia in Uganda, there is still discrimination. And in addition to that there are organizations whose work are still restricted by this,” she said.

Uganda’s Refugee Law Project, which supports asylum seekers and refugees, had its activities suspended after it was investigated for “promoting homosexuality” - a suspension that Amnesty says still stands, despite the change in law.

The Anti-Pornography Act was, according to its supporters, brought into law in order to tackle the rise of pornographic material in Uganda.

Jackson said in the days after the Act was signed, women were harassed by police, and one lawyer was threatened with arrest because of her clothing.

Jackson said the problems with the law were exacerbated because its vague wording was widely misreported and misinterpreted by the public.

“This led to a public perception that the government had banned mini skirts. And in the days after it was passed there were a number of physical attacks and harassment of women in the street. Though these cases have tailed off, the law continues to send the wrong message: It reinforces societal discrimination against women,” she said.

The report also criticized the Public Order Management Act, which imposes restrictions on public meetings, and Amnesty said has led to police suppression of political gatherings and a crackdown on activists. Supporters of the bill said it enabled Uganda’s security agencies to prevent violence associated with protests and demonstrations.

Rahul Rao from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies said Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act has received a lot of global attention, but it’s important to view that law within a broader political context.

“It's very important in the Ugandan case to locate what is happening with respect to homosexuals against a broader landscape of cracking down on dissent. The anti-pornography, anti-civil society measures in general, have to be seen as package of repressive members against any kind of opposition, both within ruling party circles, but also outside them,” said Rao.

He said the Anti-Homosexuality Act may in part have been repealed earlier this year as a response to international pressure.

But he said the international community should be wary of viewing this as a single-issue cause.

“Whatever international pressure there is has to locate the homosexuals' issues in the context of these broader issues. Don't isolate the sexuality issue because it really is about a broader crackdown across the board, which is why I think linking the three laws is very important - it is the same kinds of people that tend to be targeted by all of them, but not one particular group,” said Rao.

Amnesty’s report was based on research conducted in Uganda during March, April, and August of this year.

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