Police in Uganda this week detained 16 men suspected to be gay and forced them to undergo anal exams, according to a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group.
The arrests come as Ugandan officials are talking of again introducing legislation that would punish homosexuality with the death penalty under certain circumstances.
Diane Bakuraira of Sexual Minorities Uganda told the Associated Press today that the men were arrested Monday at a meeting of a different rights organization near the capital city, Kampala. A police officer confirmed the information to the AP.
The detentions drew international outcry. "The 16 people who police arrested and subjected to forced anal exams are victims of this mounting hate" spurred by discussion of new legislation, OutRight International Executive Director Jessica Stern said in a statement to the AP. "We call on Ugandan authorities to stop the practice of using anal exams, which amount to torture; to release those in state custody; and to ensure that the rumored legislation does not become a reality."
This month Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said lawmakers would again consider a bill punishing homosexuality with death in some cases. Similar legislation, known informally as the "kill the gays" bill, first surfaced 10 years ago. When Parliament finally passed it in 2013, it had been amended to provide for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty; Uganda's penal code already allowed for a life sentence, but the bill strengthened the law in several ways, such as for the first time covering sex between women and making the "promotion of homosexuality" a criminal act. It was struck down by Uganda's Constitutional Court in 2014 on a technicality, but homosexuality remains illegal in the nation and punishable with life in prison.
Lokodo said the existing law was not sufficient to fight "recruitment by gay people." "Our current penal law is limited. It only criminalizes the act," he said earlier this month. "We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalized. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence." He said the death penalty bill had the support of President Yoweri Museveni. But aides to Museveni said there are no plans to consider the legislation.
Discussion of it, however, has increased the "likelihood of arbitrary arrest and violence" in the nation, Stern said. Ugandan society is already deeply hostile to LGBTQ people. At least three gay men and one transgender woman have been killed in hate crimes this year, according to Sexual Minorities Uganda.