By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s Police raided a night club where a Gay Pride event was underway and arrested at least 15 people, accusing them of staging an illegal gathering and promoting homosexuality, a rights activist told Reuters on Friday.
Gays and lesbians experience considerable hostility in the largely conservative east African country, one of 37 countries on the continent where homosexuality is illegal.
They often live secretive lives, fearful that coming out will attract stigma and hostility from family and friends, or the loss of a job or an apartment.
Clare Byarugaba, a gay rights activist, told Reuters Police showed up at a club in a suburb of the capital Kampala at about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday and accused the organizers of promoting homosexuality, before scuffles with revelers started.
“They (Police) were dragging people, they were beating people, they were undressing people,” Byarugaba said. “They were undressing especially trans-gender women. Apparently they wanted to find out whether they were men or women.”
Kayima Emilian, a police spokesman, said they had dispersed the gathering because the organizers had failed to notify them of the event.
“A large group of people gathering? They need to tell Police. But also they were likely to engage in promoting gay sex which is illegal in Uganda.”
Uganda triggered widespread western criticism after it enacted a harsh anti-gay law that handed out life sentences for some homosexual offences.
A constitutional court later overturned the law because of legal technicalities.
Despite threats by some lawmakers that the bill would be re-introduced in parliament, that has not happened and analysts say it would be unlikely to succeed in the face of strong pressure from Western donors.
Police arrested at least 15 participants in Thursday’s incident and took them to a nearby police station where they spent about two hours before they were all released without recording a statement or being charged with any offences.
At the station, Byarugaba said security personnel taunted the homosexuals, took their pictures without their permission and tried to touch them to “ascertain especially for trans gender individuals whether they were women or men.””It was a very, very degrading process,” she said.
Uganda Police have raided similar events before with officials accusing organizers of assembling illegally and promoting gay lifestyle in Uganda.
Byarugaba said the club event, where a Mr. and Ms. Pride was to be selected was a precursor to a Gay Pride march planned for Saturday in Kampala.
(This version of the story corrects activist’s second name throughout to Byarugaba not Byaruhanga)