Ugandan LGBT community arrests while protesting media closures

Today, we find these same people, abused by the press, actually outraged by the closure and protesting in defense of the press and the importance of its freedoms.

By Melanie Nathan, May 23, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.58.43 AM
Protesting for freedom of the press in Uganda

Today several human rights defenders were arrested outside of the Daily Monitor as they rallied in solidarity against the Ugandan authorities clamp down on freedom of speech of the media. It seems that members of Uganda’s LGBT community have shown their courage, yet again, and this time by standing up for universal principles, a freedom that is not unique to their cause. These arrests came not from seeking to preserve their personal human right to freedom of sexual orientation, but rather the universal principle which impacts all Ugandans, the right to a free press.

UPDATED: 5/24/2013.

VIDEO | The inside view of an unlawful arrest

“We attended the demonstration to support a free press. As LGBTI people we know that we are the ones often denied media access, so we went in support of the media. Hopefully, the larger straight society will see that LGBTI Ugandans support all forms of rights and that LGBTI people should be equally supported by them.”

About a dozen Ugandans and one or two westerners walking alongside a Ugandan street. The protestors are well dressed as if walking to work. They have taped their mouths with surgical strips. They are not making a noise of any kind and quietly walking almost in single file. They are carrying a stretcher with a pen symbol in the stretcher. Symbolizing a dying free press. Their intent and their protest is peaceful.

They arrive at their destination – The road block to the Daily Monitor which has been under siege by the Ugandan police. That story was reported here – below.

The next thing a bunch of riot police, way outnumbering the dozen, come dashing toward them. There was no formation, no warning. Just an attack.

When I watched the Video of the arrests it hit hard the extent of the force and clear unlawfulness of the police action. They literally ran at the protestors – in an attack mode- and lunged at them. There was no warning. No request to leave the street. They were dressed in riot gear and were extremely aggressive.

WATCH:-

We reported earlier this week that the Ugandan police had closed down two Ugandan media outlets – The Daily Monitor and The Red Pepper Tabloid. The police issued a statement saying they had planned to conduct searches, apparently for an original letter, purportedly evidence in a crime, which seems to relate to the recent military controversy involving a Ugandan general.  Some believe that the closure was done in retribution and to silence these outlets from reporting on the developments surrounding the issue, rather than to search for the document. The closure was characterized as raids. Both outlets remained closed for several days, amidst an outcry by journalists and human rights defenders. A Court order was obtained ordering the police to reopen the media premises. It was ignored.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.55.35 AMIncluded in the protests were several well known members of the LGBT community. Some of whom, although now protesting in solidarity with the press, had been ill-treated by the  Press, including those who had been outed by Red Pepper Tabloid, which had used extremely abusive rhetoric in the outings.

As it happens, the activists from SMUG, who are now defending the right of free speech by press, had recently on May 17th’s International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO,) called upon the Ugandan Press to respect the LGBT community in their reporting:-

“Today is a time for people worldwide to reflect on the importance of fighting intolerance based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In Uganda, LGBTI persons continue to experience arbitrary outings in print, radio, television and social media.”

The closures involved two outlets – The Daily Monitor and Red Pepper, only the latter being a real culprit of tabloid outings against gays.  However the calls for respect was addressed to all media in Uganda.

The May 17 IDAHO plea to the media had come from the organization, SMUG:

“In light of this, it is our fervent belief that the promotion of human dignity shall remain hollow unless we transform not only our social and political attitudes, but also the culture and practices of the media, in order to eliminate hate and ensure tolerance for diversity. The Ugandan LGBTI community therefore denounces the practices of the tabloid media in failing to uphold basic rights of privacy, and actively contributing to an atmosphere of prejudice and intolerance in Ugandan society.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.37.34 AMAt the protest, the human rights defenders were detained for some hours at Kabalagala police station. Some managed to escape detention and others were arrested. Lawyers came to the police station and were kept out of the room where protestors were questioned. Although it seems no charges have been made at this time, the detainees are free and there are some reports of police bond having been made.

Included in the arrests was one SMUG worker, Richard Lusimbo Umulegela, a 26-year-old gay man and lead researcher for SMUG.  At this time all 6 who were detained have been released.

One report by Brenda Banura tweeted, “The road block street before Daily Monitor premises. There’s no where to pass I tell you 😦 #Monitorsiege – See Pic #1)

Pic # 2
Pic # 2

RosebellK Rosebell Kagumire 22 May Tweeps please share our message #pressfreedom is a constitutional right #monitorsiege#RPsiege (see pic #2)

Award winning LGBT human rights defender Frank Mugisha reported that all was well until riot police showed up. By all accounts this was a peaceful protest and any arrests may impinge on the protestors’ constitutional rights to freedom of assembly. However the police suppression of such protests is not uncommon in Uganda, under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni who has held the position for the past 25 years.

The activists have been ordered to report back to the police at 9:00 am tomorrow morning. The accusations pertain to unlawful assembly. It seems the great irony is that they may well pay a price for defending the very media that so often turns against them.  Yet they were willing to stand up for the universal principles of freedom that go beyond merely that of their own. This time their right to freedom of sexual orientation is not the issue for which they protested and are now paying a price, but rather the right to free press for all Ugandans. Any pursuit of charges by authorities could well open the door for Ugandans to see that gay Ugandans are indeed Ugandans first.


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