On June 4, 2014 Buzzfeed World reports: Activists fear this could be the first use of Uganda’s new anti-LGBT law as a political weapon.
The Refugee Law Project, whose office hosts the coalition of organizations opposing the anti-LGBT law, has been under investigation by the officials in the prime minister’s office for “promoting homosexuality” since mid-March. The organization has been trying to resolve the matter quietly, but activists in Uganda say privately the investigation could be the beginning of an ominous political turn they have long feared — that the law would work not only to destroy the lives of hundreds of LGBT individuals, but also would become a weapon used against critics of the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo said his office had “recommended that [RLP] be suspended pending further investigation” because the group had been “promoting homosexuality and lesbianism,” NTV, one of Uganda’s leading television stations, reported Tuesday. The report said, “The allegation against the Refugee Law Project is that it has been working with … [the coalition] which has been handling the petition … against the Anti-Homosexuality Act” which is due to be heard by the Constitutional Court later this month.
The RLP’s collaboration in opposing the anti-LGBT law is a small part of its work. With a staff of 110, it works primarily on issues affecting the more than 265,000displaced foreigners now estimated to be in Uganda. It also provides legal assistance to a large number of clients, and currently handles around 3,000 open cases, said its director, Chris Dolan.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalizes advocating LGBT rights and imposes up to a lifetime sentence for homosexuality, is just one of many measures enacted by the Museveni regime targeting freedom of expression. A vaguely worded Anti-Pornography Act went into law around the same time as the Anti-Homosexuality Act, potentially criminalizing a broad range of expression if authorities deem it to be sexual. The government also has broad powers to monitor electronic communications and regulate NGOs, and President Museveni has recently moved to shut down media outlets in retaliation for their reporting and has blocked opposition rallies.
The Ugandan government began targeting the Refugee Law Project under the anti-LGBT law almost as soon as it went on the books. On March 14, just three weeks after Museveni signed the bill into law, the top official for refugee affairs inside the prime minister’s office ordered commandants of refugee camps to deny access to RLP staff. On May 20, Dolan told BuzzFeed he received another letter from the prime minister’s office notifying him the group was also barred from working with clients in its Kampala headquarters.
The organization was working to smooth things over with the prime minister’s office when Lokodo, who has been one of the most vocal supporters of the anti-LGBT law in Museveni’s cabinet, ratcheted things up a notch. His office does not have any direct enforcement power, so he wrote a letter in late May to the minister of internal affairs demanding more investigations of RLP, Dolan told BuzzFeed. The NTV broadcast, in which Lokodo was the only government official interviewed, suggests he may have been the one to make the investigation public.
Dolan said his group has been asking the government to clarify what activities allegedly constituted the promotion of homosexuality. The investigation was opened so soon after the law was enacted, Dolan said, that it seemed unlikely that it was based on anything other than the group’s role in challenging the anti-LGBT act and other disputes in the courts. RLP is suing Lokodo over the shutdown of human rights workshops the organization put together in 2012, a matter that is still in adjudication.
“How taking a matter to court as reconcieved [of] as promotion of homosexuality, is a little bit beyond my understanding,” Dolan said. “It’s due legal process and the right of any organization.” Continued