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Ugandan LGBT activist escapes persecution and seeks to be reunited with sons
written by：Stop Trafficking Of People (STOP)
“I had to run,” recalls Jackie (not her real name), an LGBT activist now seeking asylum in Hong Kong, “The police were right behind me.”
Jackie was part of a group of women who campaigned for LGBT rights in Uganda. In a protest in the autumn of 2019, she was nearly arrested when the police cracked down. The police caught several of the women in her group. Jackie ran, hurt her leg but managed to escape. She went into hiding and eventually fled to Hong Kong, the first place she thought of since she had been to Hong Kong on business trips.
Uganda is one of the most dangerous countries for LGBT people, with such an entrenched, homophobic culture that harassment and violent attacks against them occur on a daily basis.(note1) The police are known to intimidate and humiliate LGBT people at police stations. Newspaper “outings” are common, publishing the photos and personal information of alleged LGBTs. One gay rights leader was fired from his job after newspapers published photos of him. In 2011, David Kato, Uganda’s first prominent LGBT activist, was murdered. Uganda has harsh laws against LGBT and in 2014, the Ugandan government proposed a bill that would have made lesbian and gay male sexual orientation punishable by the death penalty. Faced with international pressure and resistance from civil society organizations, the maximum punishment was changed to life imprisonment. Other repressive laws remain, such as the Computer Misuse Act which bans the sharing of LGBT advocacy online, punishable by 5 years in prison.(note 2)
This year, amidst pre-election violence on the streets that killed over a hundred people, Ugandan President Museveni recently fanned homophobia with comments blaming protests on groups funded by foreign LGBT rights organisations. “Some of these groups are being used by outsiders … homosexuals … who don’t like the stability of Uganda and the independence of Uganda,” he said in an interview.(note 3)
Jackie took part in campaigns to change discriminatory laws undermining LGBT rights and was forced to flee police persecution. She fears for the lives of her friends who were caught by police. “It has been more than a year since the police arrested them,” she says, “And there hasn’t been a single message from them. I don’t know whether they are still alive.”Jackie is a single mother of two young sons, whom it was impossible to take with her while on the run from police. She managed to visit them under the cover of night before she fled to Hong Kong in September 2019. While waiting in Hong Kong for her asylum claim to be processed, she has endured increasing agony worrying about her sons back home, as Uganda was hit first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by a wave of violence surrounding the general election. Her sons’ situation back in the country is now desperate, staying with relatives who struggle to play the irreplaceable role of their mother.
She is afraid, with ample reason, that if she returns to Uganda, she would disappear like her friends did. If her sons are to be reunited with their mother, the only option remaining is to get her sons to Hong Kong. Significant challenges remain. Currently, Jackie communicates regularly with NGOs and pro bono lawyers to clear the legal hurdles of bringing her sons to Hong Kong and she is also raising funds for flight tickets for her sons and one adult who would accompany them on the flight through a crowdfunding appeal.
Kasha Nabagesera and Sarah Berning, “As the support network grows, so too will Uganda’s LGBT movement,” Deutsche Welle, May 13, 2016, https://www.dw.com/en/as-the-support-network-grows-so-too-will-ugandas-lgbt-movement/a-19256027
Sam Opio and Isabella Bauer, “LGBT people still tend to hide,” D+C Development and Cooperation, November 18, 2020, https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/though-things-have-improved-lgbt-people-still-face-serious-harassment-uganda.
Nita Bhalla, “Anti-gay rhetoric ramps up fear among LGBT+ Ugandans ahead of polls,” Reuters, January 7, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-lgbt-election-idUSKBN29B22W.