There's been an alarming surge of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in Uganda recently, with at least four murders, multiple government officials threatening executions, and now 16 LGBTQ+ activists arrested and accused of homosexuality.
The 16 activists were rounded up at a sexual health charity called Let's Walk Uganda earlier this week, and face life in prison if convicted.
Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango indicated that the men were subjected to "medical examination," likely referring to forced anal exams that human rights groups have identified as torture.
"Based on the medical examination report, it was established that the suspects were involved in sexual acts punishable under the penal code," said Onyango.
The timeline of the arrests is somewhat unclear, with reports indicating that an angry mob had surrounded the office of the nonprofit. The victims may have initially called the police for help, but other reports indicate that the police were summoned by complaints from the community.
Violence against queer people has been particularly dire in Uganda in recent months. Organizers say at least four members of the community have been murdered, including activist Brian Wasswa, who was bludgeoned to death on October 4.
Earlier this month several politicians called for a bill to punish homosexuality with death. Member of Parliament James Nsaba Buturo said that "death to gays" legislation would be considered soon, and state minister for ethics and integrity Simon Lokodo endorsed the effort. "Certainly I support the bill. We can't allow the recruitment and promotion of homosexuality in Uganda," he said.
But Don Wanyama, senior press secretary to president Yoweri Museveni, denied that a death penalty bill was in the works. "We have the penal code that already handles issues of unnatural sexual behaviour, so there is no law coming up," he said.
Such a proposal gained traction in Uganda about a decade ago, and was passed into law, but then overturned on a technicality by the country's high court. That initial law came amidst heavy lobbying by American anti-LGBTQ+ activists, some funded in part by donations acquired from Chick-fil-a.
The recent escalation in police activity has Ugandan activists concerned. "Normally we will hear of maybe one arrest of someone from the community under these anti-gay laws in one month, but it is really unusual to see 16 people charged like this," Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told The Guardian.
Progress on LGBTQ+ equality has been mixed in surrounding countries. Tanzanian authorities have stepped up raids in the last few years, but Angola recently decriminalized homosexuality and Botswana is currently considering reforms to its laws as a result of a pending lawsuit.
RELATED | After Being Beaten and Raped, Lesbian Asylum Seeker Faces Deportation