By Stephanie J. Wearne
Whilst in other parts of the world, the debate is about legalising gay marriage, in an East African country the ongoing discussions are about to legalise the death penalty for those found guilty of homosexual acts.
In substitute for public executions that were normal daily permits of Idi Amin’s tyrannical regime; now homophobic attacks have turned a trademark in an east African country of Uganda.
From those days when Ugandans used to disappear in the hands of State Research Bureau and never to be seen or heard from again due to their political beliefs, now it is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTs), that have no one to turn to for safety. With many security organs handling suspects; relatives find it hard to locate their loved ones.
In Uganda, there are two categories of suspects, those arrested to make it to the court of law and those who are arrested and will never be seen before the judge. Not everyone that being arrested, tortured, persecuted or disappears is not a gay or lesbian; people who render assistance to the homosexuals also face persecution.
Information obtained by this newspaper, a family of Norman Walugembe is in fear, panic and despair that he might have been killed because the last time he was seen on TV, he appeared to be in a coma. Walugembe’s appearance on one of the networks in the country some years ago left some bad ‘memories’ to the family. The cause of his beatings was not clear, as the newsreader did not mention for self-censorship. The family members have searched all places including; the city mortuary, all gazetted prison facilities and ‘Safe-Houses’ but the pursuit has hit a dead end.
According to a family member who preferred not to be named for fear of reprisal, Walugembe, 34, has been giving medical assistance to a number of gays and lesbians. “It’s true, his source of income has been that little earning from medication he delivers to gays. He has been the bridge between the gays and medical professionals who provide medicine to the homosexuals,” said a family member, adding that: “I know he is not a gay because he has a wife and a child.”
The family member went on to defend and describe, Walugembe: “He’s been the kind of character who wouldn’t want to see a certain group of people being persecuted. That is the reason why sometimes he could go all the way to get them some medication.”
“Not everyone here likes to associate with those people [homosexuals], if you’re not careful, you might be construed as one of them,” Walugembe’s sister-in-law said, adding that: “We as a family had advised him not to…, but paid little attention. My greatest worry; he’s such person known everywhere and there is no way he can sneak out of the country, that is the reason we believe he is dead.”
“Another issue we don’t know the welfares of my sister and her 2-year-old son, she also left their house, three weeks later,” said a member of the family.
Since the brutal murder of a Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato who was bludgeoned to death on January 26, 2011, life is gradually getting more harder for the gay community in Uganda. Many people remain with their mouths tight brimmed in regards to questions relating to homosexuality for fear of being mistaken to be gays. Particularly, the re-emerge of the anti-homosexuality bill, gives no room to the gays and lesbians to seek protection from the authority.
Now a suspected gay Walugembe, a father of a 2-year old son, was included on a long list of disappearances because he hasn’t been seen since last August. Little is known about the whereabouts of Walugembe.
Walugembe, who has been living with his partner, and a resident of Mawanda Road Upper Nsoba Zone, went missing in August last year following his arrest on allegations unlawful gathering.
A friend who conducted a secret search [for fear of being persecuted] told this newspaper that they have tried to locate Walugembe but in vain. “At Kireka, we were told he is not there. Suspects are normally bundled into unmarked cars; we hear sometimes they are transported as far as southern Sudan for interrogations, if lucky you can come back with your wounds, but if not … you’re killed and the body dumped there,” says the source. She was in reference to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), which was established in December 2011, after a Human Rights Watch’s damaging report incriminating the disbanded Rapid Response Unit (RRU) with gross human rights abuses. The Human Rights Watch has authored several reports accusing these organs for carrying out torture and extrajudicial killings.
The RRU had earlier been transformed from Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU), which also replaced Operation Wembly, which was established in 2002 to fight hard criminal gangs in the country. “It is just a change of name the faces remain the same plus their brutal acts,” the source claims.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch had reported that a couple of suspects had died at Kireka headquarters in RRU custody during the interrogations.
“I have tried to locate him [Walugembe]but nothing positive. We fear taking the matter to the police, it will generate more questions and the police were involved during his arrest”, a family friend told this newspaper, adding that: “We have been carefully consulting a few friends familiar with state agents. Very few lawyers who would like to be construed over the issue.”
According to a source who requested not to be named so that he can talk freely, they have searched for Walugembe, his wife and a 2-year old son for more than eight months but the search is unproductive. “We are highly suspecting the former boyfriend of his wife because he works for one of the security agents. He had knowledge that Walugembe was actually helping the gays, and he might have used that chance [Gay Hate] which is supported by many in the country to terminate the life of an innocent person,” our source said because she is convinced that some people settled their scores using the security agents. Many victims have complained about being tortured on trumped-up charges.
This newspaper could not independently verify the allegations that some security agents, after picking Walugembe, the mother of his one 2-year-old also went missing.
Although the controversial legislation was widely disapproved outside Uganda soon after it was introduced and submitted to the Ugandan Parliament, the bill has strong appeal among all religious leaders.
MP David Bahati, now a minister from the ruling party the National Resistance Movement (NRM) sponsored a private anti-homosexuality legislation, with penalties as severe as the death in 2009 and seemed to have gone into pause after it was condemned by a number of donor governments to which Uganda is heavily dependent.
The recent re-emerging of the proposed legislation is not a surprise but a direct defiant result of the recent Obama administration move to use foreign aid to push gay rights. “Gay rights are human rights’, declared Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper criticised the legislation as President Obama trademarked it as “Odious”.
Independently, this newspaper has established that there are no more hangouts or clubs in the country where the proposed legislation would penalise not just being homosexual but also a failure to report such individuals.
President Yoweri Museveni’s previously negative statements towards the sexual minorities possibly could highlight the homophobic tendency in Uganda.
While attending the consecration of Rev. Canon Patrick Gidudu as the seventh Bishop of Mbale Diocese on August 17th, 2008, President Museveni also appeared to lend weight to the anti-gay movement in Uganda.
“I salute the Archbishop and Bishops of Africa for resisting disorientation and a decadent culture”, Museveni said.
Recently, appearing on BBC’s HardTalk show programme, hosted by Stephen Sackur in February this year, Museveni, said that: ” The issue [homosexuality] is mishandled by the western countries and their activist groups.”
However, Museveni warned the western countries to avoid making the mistake of trying to tie aid to promoting homosexuality. The warning was in response to a question about Museveni’s views on US President Barack Obama,
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Happier and other donor’s partners who have been calling for the protection of the LGBTs and respect their human rights, without which aid to Uganda would be cut.
“That will be their biggest mistake because they should be careful about black Africans…are humble people,” Mr Museveni warned, adding that: “…We never imposed our views on anybody else. We are not like Europeans or like Arabs who want to impose their views.”
The October 2, 2010, article that appeared in a local tabloid The Rolling Stone newspaper [not connected to an American Magazine], which was calling on the population to ‘Hang’ the gays, resulted into the murder of the gays rights activist Kato. The tabloid had published the photographs of Ugandans suspected of being gays and lesbians, with a headline “100 Picture of Uganda’s Top Homos” with a banner reading: “Hang Them”. The tabloid’s print of Kato’s name, photographs are addressed alongside those of other LGBTs, it claimed were gays or lesbians and called for them to be hanged. Should the legislation go through, the police could potentially use the information to hunt the gays from their respective addresses.
The legislation calls for a death penalty for homosexuals as well as a seven years jail term to anyone found guilty of not reporting to the authority about the activities of gays in their respective communities.
The bill also forbids any “promotion of homosexuality” and incarcerates gays rights defenders.
As it stands; according to the bill, mainly- article of Promotion of homosexuality, under section 13: A person who- acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices; commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a line of live thousand currency point or imprisonment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.
The funny part of this legislation, it includes a provision for Ugandans abroad that engage in the same sex relations outside the country, asserting that they may be extradited for punishment back to Uganda. It also includes penalties for individuals; companies, media organisations or non-governmental organisations that know of gay people or support the LGBT rights.
Anyone who acts as an accomplice or attempt to promote or in abet homosexuality-related practices commits an offence and reliable to a big fine or imprisonment between 5-7 years. What is not understood; is what might happen to a lawyer representing a gay suspect, a doctor treating a gay patient or a journalist filing a report about the gay persons!
I long list of people suspected to be gays or lesbians whose whereabouts remain a mystery include Adela Ashabomwe from Bushenyi (33), a 2005 Makerere University graduate who disappeared in March 2008. Adella and her partner Abaasa Adelyn were arrested in a police raid in March 2008, they have since not been heard from. Charles Kagaba, Jalia Nakiyaga, Saida Mwebaze, Zulah Naiga, Yudayah Kazibwe, Susan Namutebi, Ruth Mukasa Naluwooza and Asuman Kabugo of Ndejje are among the homosexuals whose relatives have never had a chance to find the whereabouts of their remains.
Others are; Xaevier Francis, Nicholas Atuheire Rugasira a dual citizen of Rwanda and Uganda, Peter Kayanja of Mukono district whose home was destroyed; Steven Sebaggala of Katikamu Luwero district, he was initially suspended from Kisule Boarding School due to his homosexual acts and Mathew Muwonge and Jamal Ali.
Efforts to get the police spokesperson were futile, as his known cell phones could not be answered. Only recently; another police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba told this newspaper that: “there is no way police can help those people [homosexuality] because they don’t come to us and report cases of persecution.” She added that: “We just hear
about it from newspapers…that is where police find it difficult to help. We don’t just act on rumours. Let them come and report to the police.”
It is also worth noting that whilst the government is often quick to crash and disperse opposition demonstrations including teargassing and the used of ‘Kiboko Squad’ [ an illegal stick-wielding group which has been beating civilians in the presence of the police since 2007], which is linked to Kayihura’s Police, it has also turned a blind eye to anti-homosexuality demonstrations around the country.