Ugandan police raided the offices of a United States-funded project known to offer Aids care services to homosexuals, a government spokesman said yesterday, in what appeared to be the first public action by police to enforce a new law that strengthened penalties against gay sex.
The Makerere University Walter Reed Project in Uganda's capital, Kampala, was targeted for "training youths in homosexuality", spokesman Ofwono Opondo said on Twitter. He gave no further details, but said a "top diplomat" was said to be involved in the alleged training.
Frank Mugisha, a gay leader in Uganda, said a Ugandan who worked for the project was arrested and interrogated by police on Thursday. The project - a non-profit partnership between a Ugandan university and the US Military HIV Research Programme - was known to offer services to gays who suffer from Aids, he said.
"A lot of LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual transvestite and intersex] people found it comfortable to go there for antiretroviral treatment," he said.
However, Patrick Onyango, a spokesman for Ugandan police, denied the raid. "Yesterday somebody claiming to be a police officer arrested one of the workers there," he said.
"Today the management of [the project] has decided to close the place. We are not investigating that place at all."
Daniel Travis, a spokesman for the US embassy in Kampala, refused to comment.
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's president, signed a law in February that means those convicted of engaging in gay sex can be jailed for life. A seven-year jail term was set for the offence of "attempted homosexuality".
Despite criticism from the US and other Western countries - which say the law is draconian and should be repealed - it has wide popularity in Uganda.
On Monday it became the first law in Uganda to be publicly celebrated at a rally attended by Museveni and a crowd of thousands. He told the rally he was "mobilising" to fight Western gays he accuses of promoting homosexuality in Africa.
Museveni also said gays deserved to be punished severely because homosexuality was "criminal and it is co cruel".