Uganda: Gays ask for separate police cell

Protesting discrimination and harassment by other suspects, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda want police to lock them up in separate police cells if and when they get arrested.

A rights group says that LGBT persons living in the country have suffered humiliation and harsh judgement in society and at the hands of police.

Edrian Juuko, the executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Forum Uganda, said on Friday that the community decided to hold a workshop for police officers which highlighted concerns of the minority groups.

“Our workshop aimed at sensitising police on how to handle issues of minorities such as arresting and detaining. For example, a transgender person shouldn’t be detained in the same cells with male or female because they are not sure of their sex. And police should always listen to them,” he said.

Juuko said they also urged the police to stop arresting transgender persons or gays just for the sake of it-unless they have committed a crime.

“Many cases of LGBT have been mishandled at police and discriminated in public because they are a minority. When a transgender is arrested, he is undressed before the media which is against their rights,” Juuko said.

“They are also detained in cells where they don’t belong, exposing them to dangers of rape in case they are female,” Juuko said.

Police sources say 40 police officers and LGBT activists attended the one-day workshop on minorities’ rights on November 16 at Tick Hotel Kawempe. The target group included officers in charge of criminal investigations, police stations, regional and community liaison officers.

The LGBT activists were reportedly asked to organise similar workshops for local leaders in the community so as to sensitise people and also take their demands for rights to parliament.

“But as per now the law is still active and [homosexuality] is considered an offence under Section 145 of the Penal Code which criminalises having carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” the source said.

Police spokesman Emilian Kayima told The Observer that training police officers will help them appreciate minority rights which he said should be respected like others.

“We don’t want to be judgemental on their cases when they bring them to police. The LGBT have been condemned. But there was a gap on protecting the minority although we are not promoting their activities since they are against the law in Uganda,” he said.

“If a man brings a case to police and says he is a woman, you listen to it. Don’t judge him. If an intersexual person is arrested, the officers should know how to handle the suspect, whether to detain the suspect in male or female cell,” he said.

Kayima said officers were trained on the need to protect rights of minorities, including LGBT.

“If someone is suspected to be a homo, it is very likely the community may gang up against him and kill or do worse things to him. Rights have to be protected no matter your sexual orientation,” he said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. In 2014, President Museveni signed a law punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison. Although a court later invalidated the law on a technicality, LGBT persons don’t report cases of discrimination, harassment and fear being reported to the authorities just for their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The state minister for Internal Affairs Obiga Kania said, as police, they only enforce laws and rules that are passed and cannot comment on legal recognition and protection of LGBT people.

“But as for passing or shifting policies, it’s the ministries responsible and we follow. And in this case, the state minister for ethics, Fr Simon Lokodo should answer whether gays are recognised now,” he said.

Over the weekend, Fr Lokodo said he could not immediately comment when contacted, saying he was busy in other meetings.

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The Observer

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