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20 LGBTQ Ugandans Arrested for Allegedly Flouting Social Distancing

Ugandan police
Ugandan police enforce the nationwide lockdown

Police say the arrestees were violating social distancing orders, but an activist says they were targeted for their identity.

Twenty LGBTQ people gathered at a shelter in Uganda have been arrested on charges of violating social distancing rules, but an activist says they were targeted because of their identity.

Police Sunday raided a house in Kyengera, a town near Uganda's capital city, Kampala, the Associated Press reports. The house "is a known shelter for LGBT people seeking community as well as treatment for AIDS," according to the AP.

Police arrested and detained 20 of the 23 people at the house, as three were exempted because they were ill, activist Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told the AP Wednesday.

Mugisha did not accept the police's official story that the arrests were due to violation of social distancing rules. "It is evident that they were arrested because of their homosexuality," he said, noting that the house has been targeted previously.

President Yoweri Museveni Monday ordered a 14-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda, which has had 44 cases so far.

LGBTQ people have faced persecution in Uganda for years, however. Homosexuality is criminalized in the nation, and some officials last year talked of reviving the infamous "kill the gays" bill, which would make same-sex relations punishable with the death penalty in some cases. Museveni, however, denied that the bill, which first surfaced in 2009, was under serious consideration. There is a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for homosexuality.

Last fall there were at least two instances of mass arrests of LGBTQ Ugandans and at least four murders, including that of activist Brian Wasswa in October. There had been a wave of violence against LGBTQ people in the nation after a newspaper published a list of "homos" in 2010, and activist David Kato was murdered early in 2011.

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