“A Ugandan court essentially sanctioned a crackdown on LGBTI rights organizations in a ruling issued Monday morning,” BuzzFeed reports.
In the ruling, a Uganda High Court judge dismissed a lawsuit against Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo by LGBTI activists who charged that he violated their rights by shutting down a training workshop for activists in February 2012.
High Court Judge Steven Musota reportedly ruled that that Lokodo did not violate anyone’s rights because the event was aimed at promoting an illegal activity, homosexuality. A written version of the judge’s ruling is not yet available.
The training workshop was run by the Ugandan LGBTI group Freedom and Roam Uganda with support from the Swedish organization RFSL.
“I think this is like a second or third nail into our coffin,” said Geoffrey Ogwaro, one of the plaintiffs and co-chair of the coalition opposing the newly enacted Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalizes “abetting” homosexuality as well as imposing up to a life sentence for those found to have engaged in same-sex relationships. “It’s making it really hard for any organization to function.”
Kasha Jacqueline, another plaintiff and the organizer of Freedom and Roam at the time of the raid, told BuzzFeed that she intended to appeal. The event was not “promoting homosexuality,” she said, but rather was educating LGBTI activists in skills like project planning and organizational leadership. And though sodomy was a crime under a law on the books since Uganda was a British colony, there was no statute that criminalized promoting LGBT rights in 2012.
The verdict is especially ominous following recent revelations that Lokodo’s office and the Office of the Prime Minister opened investigations into the Refugee Law Project, one of the largest NGOs in Uganda, within weeks of the anti-LGBT law’s enactment.
While Ogwaro is optimistic the ruling could be reversed on appeal, he said that Lokodo will interpret today’s ruling as saying “now he has the power to do anything he wants.”
Lokodo was also involved in another raid that shut down a second workshop for LGBTI activists in June 2012.
After that raid, Amnesty International reported in a press statement that the session was organized by the the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, which is organizing a series of workshops to improve the local gay community’s ability to report rights abuses.
Participants were from Canada, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
“At least five staff of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) who organised the workshop were detained by the police along with at least 12 of the workshop participants,” according to the Amnesty statement.
NTV reported that Lokodo had tipped off police about the meeting.
Back in 2012, Lokodo was already saying that the government planned to ban 38 groups it accused of promoting homosexuality in the guise of promoting gay rights. At that time, the Ugandan government backed away from Lokodo’s position.