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Uganda Police Interrupt Training Workshop for Gay Activists

Ugandan police officers stand by the entrance of the Esella Country Hotel after police raided a gay rights workshop which was taking place in the hotel in Kampala, June 18, 2012.
KAMPALA - Police in Uganda interrupted a human rights training session Monday, saying it was an illegal assembly. Advocates say the workshop was legal, but they were targeted because they were training gay rights activists.

More than two dozen Ugandan police officers, some in riot gear, broke up a meeting of human rights activists at a hotel outside Kampala. Most of the Ugandan participants fled the hotel in Najjera before the police arrived, but activists from Canada, Kenya and Rwanda were detained for questioning.

The meeting, organized by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, was to train local gay activists on how to report human rights abuses.

Sari Naskinen, the deputy director of the organizing group, said the workshop was interrupted because of its focus on Uganda's gay community.

"It was very clear that we were targeted because of that," said Naskinen.

Uganda's gay community has come under fire repeatedly in recent years. The incident follows a similar episode in February, when Uganda's Minister of Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo led the police in a raid of a gay rights meeting in Entebbe. And members of parliament and other leaders continue to push for the passage of a bill that would make homosexual acts punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Naskinen said the Monday raid began halfway through the first day of the three-day workshop, when members of the local media demanded access. She said they threatened to call the police if they were not allowed to interview participants. The police eventually arrived, but it is unclear if members of the media called them.

"Some of our participants were manhandled," said Naskinen. "The police just came. They did not identify themselves as police. They were in civilian clothes. And they basically just dragged them out to the reception area."

All of the participants were eventually released.