A court in Uganda has charged 67 persons arrested at a gay-friendly bar with causing nuisance. The 67 who were among some 127 arrested at Ram Bar, in the capital, Kampala, on Monday could face up to one year in jail if found guilty. They are suspected of using narcotics.
According to the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, the police received intelligence information that the site of the raid is being used as a massage parlor during the day and for smoking opium and shisha during the night.
Noting that Both products are outlawed in the Tobacco Control Act 2015 and people found guilty of using them are liable for a fine of $130 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months,VOA reports.
“We are charging them under the Tobacco Control Act,” said Onyango. “We have started the process of screening and recording statements from them. There are those we shall give police bonds, students, and those who claim that they are innocent. They were just there for a dance and they were not participating in the smoking.”
The arrest has been condemned by activists as “homophobic” attack.“This is just a homophobic attack,” LGBT+ activist Raymond Karuhanga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation outside the court. “These were people in a club, not even on the streets. They were having fun, listening to music. Then you arrest almost 130 and charge them with being a public nuisance … They just want to silence us as a community.”
But the Uganda police denied the raid was targeted at the LGBT+ members, maintaining that they were just enforcing the Tobacco Control Act, which outlaws smoking with a shisha water pipe. “We are not targeting them and we will not,” said police spokesman Patrick Onyango, adding that it is state prosecutors who decide what crimes to prosecute suspects with.“We have done these raids in many shisha smoking places … Yesterday, we were holding them under the Tobacco Control Act. What you heard in court are the charges (of common nuisance) that the state attorney proffered.”
Uganda last month announced a resurrection of the bill which imposed sentences ranging from seven years in prison to death for homosexuals in the country. The bill is known in Uganda as the “Kill the Gays” bill. With the full support of President Yoweri Museveni, the bill is expected to be introduced and voted on in the Ugandan Parliament within weeks.
The resurrection of the bill comes five years after it was nullified on technicalities by the Ugandan Constitutional Court. Gay and lesbian practices are not legal, and the vast majority of the country’s population dominated by the Christian and Muslim faiths get irritated by campaigns seeking the legislation of same-sex marriage in the country.
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