Prominent Ugandan gay activist files for asylum in U.S.
(Editor's note: John Abadallah Wambere, also known as "Long Jones," met with our contributor JP Conly in December 2013 in Kampala and was featured in Conly's first-person account of his humanitarian visit to Uganda, which was titled "Dangerous liaisons: Meeting up with Uganda LGBT activist Sam Ganafa." Even in December, before Uganda had passed and enacted the draconian anti-gay law, life was precarious for LGBT people living in Uganda. Conly risked his own safety to meet up at a secret location with LGBT activists, including Long Jones and Sam Ganafa.)
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John Abadallah Wambere, a prominent Ugandan gay activist who was featured in the documentaries “Call Me Kuchu” and “Missionaries of Hate,” filed for asylum today in the United States.
Wambere has been an activist for 14 years, as a co-founder of Spectrum Uganda Initiatives, through which he has worked to ensure the safety of the LGBTI community, reduce stigma, assist LGBTI Ugandans under arrest, and educate about HIV.
Uganda’s LGBTI community has been under escalating public, political, and physical attack in recent years, culminating in the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and its signing into law on February 24, 2014 by President Yoweri Museveni.
“This has been a very, very difficult decision for me,” Wambere said. “I have devoted my life to working for LGBTI people in Uganda, and it gives me great pain not to be with my community, allies, and friends while they are under increasing attack. But in my heart, I know it is my only option, and that I would be of no use to my community in jail.”
The Anti-Homosexuality Act imposes harsher penalties for same-sex relationships, including life imprisonment. It also imposes new penalties for any activities that are viewed as “aiding and abetting homosexuality” and “promoting homosexuality.” The law is broad in its reach and criminalizes even activism and public health education work related to LGBTI individuals, including those living with HIV.
“It is simply not safe for John to return to Uganda,” said Janson Wu, senior staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), which is representing Wambere. “Even before the bill was signed, John was outed as gay by newspapers, harassed by strangers, received death threats from anonymous phone calls, evicted from his home, and beaten up. Now he also faces life imprisonment should he return.”
Following the signing of the bill, 30,000 Ugandans gathered in a stadium for a rally to thank the president for signing the law. They listened to speakers who called LGBTI people “criminals,” “animals” and “devils.” Since the bill’s signing, LGBTI people in Uganda have been arrested, some have gone underground, and others have fled the country. An HIV organization was infiltrated and shut down by police.
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has been promoted by American evangelicals such as Scott Lively, who travelled to the country to preach and promote what was at the time called the “Kill the Gays” bill because it included the death penalty, which was removed.
“The United States can do two very important things,” said Allison Wright, GLAD staff attorney. “We can provide a safer harbor where brave Ugandan LGBT individuals can continue to speak out and work for change; and we can work to stop the export of prejudice, denouncing the efforts of Americans to spread homophobia in other countries.”
John Abdallah Wambere’s condensed and redacted affidavit for asylum can be read on GLAD’s website.
In addition to GLAD, John Wambere is represented by Hema Sarang-Sieminski of the Law Office of Hema Sarang-Sieminksi.