With Uganda arrests, at least 13 in jail for being gay

Published: January 3, 2013

Arrests of two gay-rights workers this week in Uganda bring to at least 13 the number of people worldwide who are currently imprisoned on charges of violating laws that punish those who are born gay, lesbian or bisexual. In addition, at least 14 other people are awaiting trial for homosexuality.

The prison sentences vary from three months to five years — at the low end of punishments that are on the books in the 76-plus countries where homosexuality is currently illegal.

Listing 27 names is probably an extreme understatement of the number of people who are behind bars or awaiting trial on anti-homosexuality charges, but finding out about specific cases is difficult, especially in countries without a free press.

The lists below provide a narrow window into just one of many types of injustice affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sometimes with fatal results. (See the last section of this post.)

At present, the lists are dominated by Cameroon (8 in prison and 12 free while awaiting trial), with Nigeria and Uganda a distant second (2 in prison in each country). Those countries have a similar combination of repressive laws and active news media. One unidentified man in Saudi Arabia is on the list, because no word has been received about his status since he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010. Two men are listed as awaiting trial in Zimbabwe, while two other Zimbabwean men get a mention, although the facts of their case are in dispute.

Until New Year’s week, no one in Uganda was on the lists, despite that country’s deserved reputation for homophobia. Uganda’s LGBT people confront stigma, rejection, extortion, exclusion from health care, and the possibility of passage of the notorious “Kill the Gays” bill. Now the police have started making homosexuality-related arrests too.

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