Ugandan police said Monday that in an operation around Kampala's city center, they arrested 120 people suspected to have been using narcotics. However, members of the LGBT community say it was a health meeting that police interrupted.
Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, tells VOA they received intelligence information that the site of the raid — The Ram Bar — is used as a massage parlor during day and for smoking opium and shisha during the night.
Both products are outlawed in the Tobacco Control Act 2015 and people found guilty of using them are liable for a fine of $130 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
"We are charging them under the Tobacco Control Act," said Onyango. "We have started the process of screening and recording statements from them. There are those we shall give police bonds, students, and those who claim that they are innocent. They were just there for a dance and they were not participating in the smoking."
At the Central Police Station in Kampala, friends and members of the local LGBT community move around, seemingly worried. Among them is Sean Mugisha a paralegal who is trying to secure bail for the arrested members.
Mugisha tells VOA that Ram Bar is the only safe place that the LGBT community has in Kampala.
"But most importantly it is a center for most outreaches.," he said. "All these guys who give health care services, when they want to do outreaches for the community, it's one of those venues that they have been accessing. So, last night there was an arrest. I consistently got calls. I decided to come and follow up what is here."
Frank Mugisha, the executive director Sexual Minorities Uganda, says the arrests Monday are based on trumped up charges by the police.
"We don't know what will happen next. I think we are still looking at the worst. I think its totally aimed at intimidation of the LGBT Community," he said. "The police is coming up with trumped up charges. I don't think all 120 people were publicly smoking. So, we are waiting for court tomorrow and see what happens."
This is the second time in less than a month that Ugandan police have raided a place frequented by members of the LGBT community. Last month 16 members of the LGBT Community were arrested but later released on police bond.