LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Uganda’s only gay and lesbian film festival was forced to shut down at the weekend after police stormed the venue and film-goers fled, fearing arrest, its organizers said.
On Saturday afternoon, the second day of the festival, three policemen, including one armed with an AK-47 rifle, burst into the festival venue in the capital Kampala.
“We were very shocked,” said Kamoga Hassan, director of the Queer Kampala International Film Festival.
“In Uganda there’s this narrative that there are no gay people, that it’s a Western import. This is why we need this kind of festival,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Homosexuality is illegal in the socially conservative East African country and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is common.
Nicholas Opiyo, head of Chapter Four Uganda, an independent human rights group, said he informed the festival organizers that the police were on their way after a tip off.
Festival helpers and attendees quickly left the venue, where a police officer had already been waiting outside taking pictures of those going in and out with his cellphone, he said.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said by phone he was unaware of the incident.
Uganda police have raided similar events before with officials accusing organizers of assembling illegally and promoting gay lifestyle.
Last year, Ugandan police raided a nightclub where a gay pride event was underway and arrested at least 15 people.
“For the past two years, it has been impossible to organize any major LGBT event (in Uganda),” Opiyo said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has compiled evidence of the use of forced anal examinations in Uganda to “prove” homosexuality.
Police continue to carry out examinations on men and transgender women accused of consensual same-sex acts, according to a 2017 HRW report that described the practice “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may amount to torture”.
But LGBT activists said they would not back down and vowed to hold the film festival again later this month.
“Because if we don’t do it, it means the homophobic people are actually winning,” said Hassan. “We are not bowing down because we are not breaking any laws and we are on the right side of history.”