Uganda arrests U.S.-funded health project staffer over gay law

Fri Apr 4, 2014 8:10pm EDT
 
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By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - A U.S.-funded health project in Uganda has suspended operations after police arrested a staff member on suspicion of promoting homosexuality, highlighting the mounting legal risks confronting the gay community in the east African state.

Uganda enacted legislation in February that strengthened punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, imposing jail terms of up to life for "aggravated homosexuality" -- including sex with a minor or while HIV-positive.

The United States, one of Uganda's major bilateral sources of aid, and other Western donors have halted or re-directed some $118 million in aid since President Yoweri Museveni signed the law, which also criminalized lesbianism for the first time.

In a notice on its website on Friday, Makerere University's Walter Reed Project, a collaboration between Uganda's biggest public institute of higher learning and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, said it would temporarily halt its work until it established the legal basis for the arrest.

The project said a Ugandan staff member was taken into custody by police at its offices in Kampala and released without charge the same day.

"Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended" to ensure the safety of staff, the project said..

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Friday that the United States is "deeply concerned" about the incident, saying it "significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals."

"The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health-care workers are unacceptable", Harf said. "We have temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program."   Continued...