By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Oct 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Uganda has seen a rise in attacks on LGBT+ people since a minister proposed bringing back the death penalty for gay sex, campaigners said on Tuesday, warning anti-gay rhetoric was fuelling homophobia.
The Ugandan government has since denied it is planning to reintroduce an old law colloquially known as "Kill the Gays", but LGBT+ rights groups said there had been a series of attacks on sexual minorities after the minister's remarks.
Late on Monday, 16 LGBT+ activists were taken into police custody after a mob shouting homophobic slogans surrounded their office and residence on the outskirts of Uganda's capital Kampala.
"What we are seeing recently - these continuous attacks over such a short space of time - is not normal," Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We know that they are all hate crimes as attackers made anti-gay comments," he said.
"We cannot make a direct link between the minister's statement and the attacks, but such remarks clearly help to stoke homophobic sentiments and hate crimes."
On Sunday, a gay Rwandan refugee was beaten outside his office in Kampala, while on Oct. 13, two transgender women were beaten when they were leaving a nightclub, campaigners said, sharing pictures of the victims' bloodied faces on social media.
Police said they had not registered any cases of assaults specifically targeting sexual minorities, but an incident had occurred on Monday and some LGBT+ activists were taken into police custody.
"True there are people whom the community got concerned (about) and reported to the police that there were a group of people who are staying in a house and they looked suspicious," said Patrick Onyango, Kampala police spokesperson.
"Police went to the house and they are trying to find out if they are involved in any criminality or illegal activities," he said, adding that police have asked the public to be vigilant.
Onyango said the attack on the Rwandan refugee had not been reported. The assaults outside the nightclub where the two transgender women were attacked were common, he said.
In a statement, the United Nations refugee agency in Uganda confirmed there was an assault on a Rwandan refugee, but said they did not have the full information as the victim was still recovering from his injuries in hospital.
"We trust the Ugandan authorities to ensure that asylum seekers are able to enjoy asylum without discrimination in line with international refugee obligations and the 2006 Uganda Refugee Act," it said.
Uganda is seen as one of the most difficult countries in Africa to be in a sexual minority with members of the LGBT+ community facing physical violence and harassment to prejudice in getting jobs, renting housing or seeking medical care.
Human rights groups have said three gay men and a transgender woman were killed in homophobic attacks in Uganda this year, the latest on Oct. 4, when a gay man was bludgeoned to death.
Uganda's Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said on Oct. 10 that government planned to re-introduce an anti-homosexuality bill in parliament.
Lokodo's statement was widely reported and international donors to Uganda said they were monitoring the situation closely and stood by the rights of LGBT+ people.
A spokesperson for President Yoweri Museveni later denied the plan, saying that Uganda's current penal law - which provides for up to life imprisonment for gay sex - was sufficient.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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