Group arrested during Kampala lockdown and later released allege horrific abuse during the 50 days they were on remand in prison.
Twenty LGBTQ+ men and women have filed lawsuits against the Ugandan authorities over alleged torture after they were arrested and imprisoned on charges related to the coronavirus lockdown.
The group were held on remand for more than 50 days and according to a statement from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), the legal organisation defending them, endured “taunting, flogging, scalding … as well as denial of access to food, sanitary facilities and medication”.
In March 14 gay men, two bisexual men and four transgender women were arrested at a shelter on the outskirts of Kampala where they were staying and later charged with “doing a negligent act likely to spread infection of disease” during Uganda’s Covid-19 lockdown, a move activists say was motivated by homophobia.
The lawsuits are against William Byaruhanga, the attorney general, Philimon Woniala, the deputy officer in charge of Kitalya prison, Hajji Abdul Kiyimba, a local mayor, and Kyengera town council.
The group have already won a case against the attorney general and commissioner general of prisons for denying them access to lawyers during the first 42 days of their detention.
“These are 20 poor, homeless individuals, who are standing up to be counted for their rights that were violated. That’s why we are here today. Acts of torture are not acceptable by our constitution,” said Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF in a speech outside the civil division of the high court on Tuesday surrounded by young people holding homemade placards.
One of those arrested, 19-year-old Ashraf, said he was forced to strip and then burned with a hot piece of firewood between his thighs.
“Now I have a scar that reminds me of what happened to me and how I was treated,” Ashraf told the Guardian, his voice muffled behind a face mask. “I don’t understand why they did this to me.”
Edward, 19, added: “They couldn’t recognise us as people. We were beaten so badly.”
All the group are anxious about their futures after their faces were shown on local television during their arrests.
After the footage circulated on social media, Terry, 24, said some of his family told him “when we find you, we are going to kill you”. His landlord evicted him on the grounds of his sexuality. Terry said he is also being prevented by his grandmother from seeing his three small children, because she says he will “teach them bad manners”.
Frank Baine, Uganda’s commissioner of prisons, told the Guardian that “to the best of my knowledge this [allegations of torture by one of his senior officers] can’t be true”. But he added that the individual concerned must “answer to the judges accordingly”, because torture was against Ugandan law.
Kiyimba declined the Guardian’s request for comment.
Uganda has ratified the UN convention against torture , HRAPF says, “but there is a still a huge gap in terms of enforcement of the law”.
Charges against the group over breaking the ban on public gatherings during lockdown were dropped in May.
This article was published by The Guardian.