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Gay Ugandan Activists Arrested, Detained Without Charge

By Sunnivie Brydum

A prominent LGBT advocate in Uganda has been arrested, jailed since Tuesday, and three times had his home raided — all without being informed of the charges against him. At least four other LGBT advocates have been arrested with him, according to reports from Ugandan activists. Police have refused to confirm under what, if any, crimes the activists are suspected of committing. 

Samuel K. Ganafa is the executive director of Spectrum Uganda and the board chairman for Sexual Minorities Uganda, two of the most prominent LGBT rights organizations in the East African nation, where homosexuality is illegal. 

On Tuesday, Ganafa responded to a phone call from Kampala police asking him to come to the  Kasangati station on the outskirts of the city, where he was immediately arrested. According to a press release from SMUG, Ganafa was then loaded into a police van and driven back to his home, where police twice raided his property without presenting a search warrant or providing a reason for his arrest. During the unwarranted search, Ugandan police arrested three houseguests who were staying with Ganafa. All four are still in police custody, though none have been formally charged. Uganda's constitution stipulates that those accused of a crime and detained must be brought before a court within 48 hours — a threshold that has already been crossed. 

SMUG reports that Ganafa was also subjected to an HIV test without his consent or a court order demanding such a test. 

On Wednesday, SMUG learned that a man named Disan Twesiga had filed a complaint alleging that Ganafa infected him with HIV — and today, Twesiga hosted a press conference at the Kasangati police station, attended by most of the nation's major media outlets. Police "paraded" Ganafa before the press, despite the fact that he has not been charged with or found guilty of a crime and should therefore legally be presumed innocent, notes SMUG.  

Police ignored repeated media requests to explain the charges against Ganafa, though Ganafa himself told local reporters he was being charged with sodomy. LGBT advocates in Uganda report that local media is portraying Ganafa as "a sodomy rapist who infected someone with HIV/AIDS." When reporters asked police for medical proof of these allegations, police could not produce any such evidence. 

"He is being targeted because the propagandists are looking for someone in the movement with a high profile and he suits that," Kasha Jaqueline, a Ugandan lesbian and LGBT activist who is currently in Stockholm, tells The Advocate. "The accuser has changed his statements over and over, and on the news he said that he was advised by his pastor. Now we know the invisible power to this absurd scenario."

Jacqueline suspects that Ganafa was targeted for his quiet but long-standing and consistent support of Uganda's embattled lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. She says Ganafa has readily opened his home to Uganda's persecuted LGBTI citizens — and that's why anti-LGBT bigots have targeted him. 

"Sam is one of the most honest, gentle, caring, and intelligent people this movement has ever seen," says Jacqueline, who has been involved with Uganda's LGBTI movement since the the late '90s. "It's because of his generosity that he is now a victim of a blackmail scam. It's very unfortunate because Sam has been there for every one of the elders of this community. Many in the world didn't even know he existed, and may be shocked to read his name, but Sam is one of the backbones of this movement. It's heartbreaking that now his life has been destroyed for simply being a good man."

Spectrum Uganda, SMUG, and the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law are following the case and have called for the immediate release of all those arrested in connection with Ganafa, unless the accused are presented before a court immediately. The pro-LGBT coalition notes that Ganafa's arrest is not an isolated incident, but rather the latest in a long-running campaign that targets and intimidates LGBTI people in Uganda. 

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