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May 09, 2014

Two LGBT Ugandans Face Trial

By Dawes Cooke

The trial of two Ugandans accused of violating the country’s anti-homosexuality laws moved forward this week, marking a critical point in the legal repression of the Ugandan LGBT community. Kim Musika, a gay man, and Jackson Musaka, a transgender woman, were arrested in January under suspicion of committing illegal sexual acts, and may be the first Ugandans in recent history to go on trial for such violations.

For five months the pair remained detained by authorities in Kampala, until Wednesday’s ruling granting Musaka bail.  Musika, a 19-year-old student, has also been awarded bail and will be released pending the start date of the trial, June 12th.

Anti-homosexuality laws existed long before President Yoweri Musuveni passed a draconian new law earlier this year, and Musika and Musaka are in fact being charged with violating the country’s older anti-sodomy laws. However, such laws have only infrequently been enforced and violators have almost never gone to court. The current case may signal that the Ugandan government is ready to start prosecuting LGBT people in earnest. Activists say that 12 other people arrested under similar laws are awaiting trials of their own.

Homophobia has existed in Ugandan society for years, but the addition of legal pressure from the government may be more than some in the LGBT community can take. John Abdallah Wambere, a prominent activist who worked for the LGBT organization Spectrum Uganda for 14 years, recently applied for asylum in the United States. He has endured being evicted from his home, being publicly outed, and receiving death threats, but he decided that it would be better to continue his fight abroad rather than sit in a Ugandan prison.

Mr. Wambere is only one of the numerous LGBT Ugandans who have left as refugees or asylum seekers. As Human Rights First’s Road to Safety report details, the path to asylum is a difficult one that sometimes puts refugees in as much danger as they left behind in their home countries. For many, however, the risks are preferable to facing mob violence or, like Kim Musika and Jackson Musaka, extended imprisonment back home.