Last edited: November 08, 2003

Gay Anglicans Spring Activist from Ugandan Prison

EXTRA!, April 6, 2000
2nd Floor, 491 Church St., Toronto, Ontario
Tel: 416-925-6665, Fax: 416-925-6503

By Tom Yeun

A gay Ugandan activist is seeking refuge in Canada after enduring torture and imprisonment in his home country for advancing gay rights.

Ronald Lwabaayi returned—safely—to Vancouver in March.

In a visit last summer to a British Columbia religious retreat, he spoke to fellow gay Anglicans about the church-sponsored persecution he suffered in Kenya, including more than two months in solitary confinement.

So in August he decided to go home, to Uganda. Lwabaayi was optimistic he could effect change in his native country, where free speech laws are stronger.

What Lwabaayi found was far worse.

Instead of solitary confinement he was thrown in with the prison’s general population. Instead of a cell he spent his days in a room crowded with hundreds of other prisoners.

In an unusual move, Lwabaayi (and five friends) were placed in a military prison. The killers, thieves and rapists surrounding him were all former soldiers.

The Vancouver chapter of a support group for gay Anglicans, called Integrity, pulled together the $1,000 to bail out Lwabaayi and his friends. Under cover of night they boarded a bus to Tanzania, where homosexuality is punishable by 14-year jail sentences.

From there, Integrity was able to arrange Lwabaayi a trip to Vancouver.

Lwabaayi immediately sought asylum. But seeking refuge in a more tolerant country doesn’t signal defeat: he wants to continue the fight for equality back home.

"It’s not good for me to have a comfortable life in North America, when my people are suffering," he says.

Vancouvers’s Dr Donald Meen helped arrange for Lwabaay’s escape. He is bothered by the role of the African Anglican church in Lwabaayi’s persecution.

"It pained us to see the (Ugandan) news article where the primate of Uganada said, ‘I agree with the president, these people are animals," says Meen.

Troubles for gay Ugandan men did not begin until late last year. Although sodomy can net you a life sentence, the International Lesbian And Gay Association reports prosecutions are rare. However, Ugandan president Yosemi Museveni announced Sep 28 a nation-wide sweep for gays, following a media frenzy about two men getting married (not involving Lwabaayi or his colleagues).

Lwabaayi and friends were arrested Oct 6. Ugandan police also raided their newsletter offices and seized subscription records which list addresses for 167 other gay Ugandan men.

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