Uganda's gay pride cancelled after threat of violence
Government minister threatens to mobilise 'ordinary citizens to defend Ugandan morals'
by Sumy Sadurni
Gay pride celebrations bring hundreds of thousands of people of all sexualities onto British streets, but in Uganda, the event has taken a darker turn this year.
Participants were harassed by police and told that their safety could not be guaranteed after a government minister called on people to confront the parade and "defend Ugandan morals".
On Thursday evening, police raided a pride event in Kampala, locking the exits and keeping people inside for an hour.
When officers arrived, pageant performers hurriedly wiped off their make-up and one transgender contestant tried to tear off her braids. Others hid under tables.
Sixteen people, including high-profile activists, were arrested and cautioned.
Homophobia is well entrenched in Uganda. While the Constitutional Court annulled legislation passed in 2014 that introduced life imprisonment for homosexual acts and banned the promotion of homosexuality, lesbians, gay men and trans people still face discrimination and hostility.
The country's gay pride parade, which had been due to take place on Saturday, was cancelled after ethics and integrity minister Simon Lokodo threatened to "mobilise a bigger police force and ordinary citizens to defend Ugandan morals".
He would not be held accountable for any violence that ensued, he added.
Police, meanwhile, said the parade would "jeopardise and put to risk the live and properties of the people".Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who founded the human rights group Chapter 4 Uganda, said attempts to shut down celebrations were "unlawful" and "baffling".
"This is an example of intolerance," he said after a meeting with Lokodo.
Thursday's pre-pride warm-up event had included contestants representing several African countries, including Uganda, Congo and Kenya.
"Pride means everything to me," said one gay attendee. "What I see tonight is what I want to see every day on the streets."
"We only have one week out of the whole year where we get to be ourselves. I want to be able to leave my house being able to carry my purse without the fear of getting beaten up, which is what happened tome last year."