Sixty-seven of the estimated 120 individuals arrested during a Monday raid on an LGBTQ+ friendly venue in Uganda will reportedly face charges.
As attorney Patricia Kimera told the Associated Press, individuals prosecuted could face up to a year in prison after being accused of violating the Tobacco Control Act 2015, which bans smoking in public places. Police claim Ram Bar, which operates as a massage parlor during the day, serves opium and hookah at night.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates, however, have claimed it would have been extremely unlikely for every single individual to have been smoking at the time of their arrest. Kimera further calls the accusations “petty.”
“We are campaigning to decriminalize such charges because they give the arresting officers room to abuse people's rights,” she said.
Although more than 50 people were released, those who remain in jail are reportedly being held without bail. According to the AP, detainees will face trial some time later this month.
ORIGINAL (11/11/2019): An estimated 120 people have been arrested in Uganda after police raided a massage parlor and club known as a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people.
According to the U.S.-based news website Voice of America, the arrests took place Monday at a venue known as Ram Bar. Located in the capital city of Kampala, police say Ram Bar is a massage parlor during the day but an LGBTQ+ friendly club at night — one that serves hookah and opium.
A spokesperson for the Kampala Metropolitan Police, Patrick Onyango, claimed that those arrested will be charged under the Tobacco Control Act 2015, which bans smoking in public places.
“We have started the process of screening and recording statements from them,” Onyango told VOA. “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.”
If charged, arrestees reportedly could face a fine equivalent to $130 in U.S. dollars or a sentence of six months in jail.
But LGBTQ+ activists say the individuals rounded up and charged by the police weren’t doing anything illegal. Sean Mugisha, who is working to post bail for detainees, claims that those present at Ram Bar that day were merely attending a meeting on public health that was being hosted at the venue, which serves as a de facto community center for queer and trans Ugandans.
“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,” he said.
Frank Mugisha (no relation), executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, added that the charges were “trumped up,” claiming that he doesn’t “think all 120 people were publicly smoking” at the time of their arrest.
“I think it’s totally aimed at intimidation of the [LGBTQ+] community,” Mugisha said.
Monday’s arrests are only the most recent attempt by police to keep the LGBTQ+ community from gathering in Uganda, which has attempted to criminalize even th4 very existence of queer and trans people. After Uganda held its first Pride in 2015, authorities have routinely shut down LGBTQ+ events.
Although police say detainees were not specifically arrested for being LGBTQ+, homosexuality is illegal under colonial-era laws that have remained on the books, punishable by up to life in prison. In 2013, legislators passed a law mandating the death sentence for homosexuality, but it was struck down by Uganda’s constiutitional court.
While some lawmakers called for the “Kill the Gays” bill to be reintroduced last month, President Yoweri Museveni said the proposal is not currently under consideration.
But as the LGBTQ+ community’s future hangs in the balance in Uganda, the individuals rounded up at Ram Bar will reportedly head to court some time this week to begin legal proceedings. According to Frank Mugisha, it’s unclear “what will happen next.”
“I think we are still looking at the worst,” he said.