Friday, April 4, 2014

Gays and Africa: Ugandan police raided the offices of a United States-funded project known to offer AIDS services to homosexuals, a government spokesman has said, in what appeared to be the first public action by police to enforce a new law that strengthened criminal penalties against gay sex

The Makerere University Walter Reed Project in the Ugandan capital of Kampala was targeted for "training youths in homosexuality," spokesman Ofwono Opondo said on Twitter. He offered no further details but said a "top diplomat" was involved in the alleged training. The project said in a statement that it was suspending its activities in Uganda after one of its staff, a Ugandan citizen, was arrested and briefly detained by police. "We are working with police to understand the circumstances under which this person was detained," the statement said. "Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program." Frank Mugisha, a gay leader in Uganda, said that the project — a nonprofit partnership between a Ugandan university and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program — was known to offer services to gays who suffer from AIDS, he said. "A lot of LGBTI people found it comfortable to go there for anti-retroviral treatment," he said. Patrick Onyango, a spokesman for Ugandan police, denied the raid, saying a man pretending to represent the police threatened workers at the project. He said that authorities were now looking for the man, after police in his jurisdiction briefly arrested him and then freed him. Daniel Travis, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, declined to comment. Uganda's president in February 2014 enacted a new measure that allows up to life imprisonment for those convicted of engaging in gay sex and sets a seven-year jail term for the offense of "attempted homosexuality." Despite criticism from the United States and other Western countries that say the law is draconian and should be repealed, it has wide popularity among Ugandans. It has become the first legislation in Uganda to be publicly celebrated in a rally attended by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who told a raucous crowd that he was "mobilizing" to fight Western gays he accuses of promoting homosexuality in Africa. At that rally, attended by thousands of Ugandans, Museveni said that gays deserve to be punished severely because homosexuality is "criminal and it is so cruel." The United States, the World Bank and some European countries have cut, delayed or reviewed development assistance to Uganda since the bill was enacted, action that some Ugandan government officials have described as blackmail. Ugandan gay leaders say that many homosexuals have had to flee their old homes in the weeks since the measure was enacted, apparently to escape angry mobs, and some are reported to have been evicted by landlords who discovered that they were gay. About 1.5 million Ugandans are infected with HIV, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations program on HIV and AIDS.

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