Saturday, June 7, 2008

UNAIDS official pleads for homosexuals

By Raymond Baguma

A SENIOR HIV/AIDS expert has urged the Government to release three gay activists arrested by security operatives during the HIV Implementers meeting in Kampala.

Dr. Michel Sidibe, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said the incident might overshadow Uganda’s HIV/AIDS achievements.

“We have received information that some people were arrested. We are looking forward to their safe and imminent release,” Sidibe told participants attending a plenary session at Imperial Royale Hotel on Thursday.

“I do not know if they were gay. But if they were not registered for the meeting and wanted to be part of the movement fighting against AIDS……Uganda is known as a country of openness. I do not want this incident to overshadow the national efforts,” Sidibe, who is also a former UNICEF representative to Uganda, told Saturday Vision.

Security operatives on Wednesday arrested a woman and two men who sneaked into the meeting, carrying placards and a 67-page document soliciting for funding for their activities. The placards and document were advocating consideration of homosexuals in HIV/AIDS programmes.

The Police identified the trio as Pepe Juliana Onzema, who said she was a freelance journalist, Usaam Mukwaya and Valantini Katende. They were detained at Jinja Road Police Station on Thursday night.

Homosexuality is a crime in Uganda, punishable by life imprisonment under the “unnatural offences” in section 140 of the penal code.

In his presentation during same the plenary session, renowned Ugandan AIDS activist, the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, said that some governments were using AIDS to control people rather than using people to control the disease.

Byamugisha, representing people living with HIV/AIDS said: “implementation is in chaos. we seem to have different agenda. To say that you cannot give me treatment because I have sex differently is beside the point. We are in implementation to save lives. Are we going to put conditions on who will survive and who will die?”

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