- Three local homosexual activists were arrested yesterday morning by the Uganda Police Force at the 2008 HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting currently taking place in Kampala, Uganda. Human rights groups now fear for the safety of the three activists.
The three - a 28-year-old transgender person, a 27-year-old lesbian and a 26-year-old male homosexual - took part in a peaceful protest along with other gay, HIV and AIDS activists at the Kampala conference. The group protested against statements made by a Ugandan government official that no funds would be directed toward HIV programmes targeting men who have sex with men.
On 2 May, Kihumuro Apuuli, Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, stated that, "gays are one of the drivers of HIV in Uganda, but because of meagre resources we cannot direct our programmes at them at this time."
Activists from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) staged the peaceful protest at the HIV Implementers meeting to protest the Minister's statements and what they call "gross neglect" on the part of the Ugandan government in responding to a growing HIV epidemic among the country's gay community. The three were arrested and detained at the Jinja Road Police Station immediately after taking the stage at the meeting, distributing leaflets and holding up small placards demanding attention to HIV vulnerability among homosexuals.
SMUG today strongly condemned the arrest of its three activists. "Today I realised how dangerous it is for us [sexual minorities] to express our constitutional rights," said Frank Mugisha, Co-Chairperson of SMUG. "I am worried about my comrades who are in police custody," he added.
According to a recent report by the University of Nairobi and the Population Council, gay men in neighbouring Kenya have a HIV prevalence rate of 26 percent. Twenty-six years since the beginning of the epidemic, Uganda has not implemented a single programme to prevent transmission of HIV among men who have sex with men in the country.
"The remarks made by the head of the AIDS Commission were very disturbing to members of the LGBT community," said Kasha Jacqueline, Chairperson of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a lesbian organisation in the East African country. "If they want us to die, let them ask themselves if they wish themselves the same. Excluding us is just going to make the situation worse," she added.
The HIV Implementer's Meeting is an annual event described as an opportunity for HIV programme implementers to share lessons learned and best practices in the scale-up of HIV/AIDS programmes. It is co-sponsored by the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), UNAIDS, the World Bank, the Global Fund, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+).
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is now requesting that the co-sponsors of the meeting contact the Ugandan government to demand the release of these activists. "Gay men and lesbians are not 'drivers of disease'," said Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of IGLHRC. "Homophobia drives HIV. Silence drives HIV."
In November 2004, the Ugandan government fined a local broadcaster, 'Radio Simba' for airing a programme that discussed anti-gay discrimination and the need for HIV/AIDS services for lesbians and gay men. The government claimed that 'Radio Simba' had violated federal law promoting broadcasting that is contrary to "public morality."
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