Friday, 19 August 2011

Ugandan gay refugee recounts horror of imprisonment

Robert Segwanyi
By Joe Mirabella,

Robert Segwanyi was scheduled for deportation on August 18,  from the United Kingdom's Heathrow airport. The UK was sending Robert back to Uganda, where he was tortured with molten plastic and imprisoned for being gay.

Robert was spared from deportation at the very last minute according to his friend and fellow gay Ugandan refugee John Bosco:
"[Robert] is back in the detention centre waiting to hear what's next.  He had 5 escorts up to the plane, and as he was about to board the plane the Home Office stopped his deportation.  He is very tired and stressed since he has not been sleeping well.  He is in pain."
John Bosco told me on the phone that Robert has not been eating well and that he was considering suicide.
"Since last Friday, when he was given the deportation notice he stopped eating. He threatened to kill himself, because he has had enough,” said Bosco.
More than 3,500 people signed Paul Canning's petition asking the Home Office to grant Robert Segwanyi asylum in the UK.

I asked John to make sure Robert knew about the thousands of people fighting for his right to live freely as a gay man in the United Kingdom. John said, "I was overwhelmed with the way people helped him through the petition. I think the petition played a big part in this."

Paul Canning was pleased to hear that Robert would be given more time to make his case, but he is not done working to keep Robert safely in the UK. He may still need your help. He wrote to the people who signed his petition on, "We won because everybody helped including you, but we won a battle we didn’t win the war. Robert Segwanyi isn’t safe yet, so we may need to come back to you.”

John Bosco
John Bosco told me about life in Uganda and what it was like for him when he was imprisoned for being gay. He said:
"There are no beds in prisons in Uganda -- no mattresses --  just the concrete floor. The prisons are packed. You sleep on one side. You don’t have room to turn around," John recounted.
"There are no toilets, there is no running water. There are buckets where everyone eats. No blankets, no curtains. It is hell. It is even worse than the place that they keep pigs," John explained.
"If they know you are gay, you can get beat up by the other prisoners. You have to stand in a corner because no one wants to be near you. You end up not sleeping almost 24/7 because no one wants to be near you if you are gay, so you can not lie down."
Robert Segwanyi was in a similar prison and was tortured with molten plastic. He has the scars to prove it according to John Bosco:
"He has the marks on him. That’s the way the Ugandan government makes you say things. If they ask you something and you say no, they burn you until you say yes. The pain makes you say yes.”
Life is not even safe for gays if they are free from police custody or prison. The public will beat or even set fire to gay people, "in broad daylight," according to Bosco.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo from the Anglican Church of Uganda, said in a statement:
"Ordinary people are being forced to move because their fellow Ugandans are attacking them: there is a “witch-hunt” atmosphere regarding LGBT in the country which is unfortunately being encouraged by many of my fellow Christian leaders," he said, "It is not safe to return anyone who is LGBT or perceived to be LGBT to Uganda."
What's next for Robert is still unknown. He has thousands of people fighting for him. Paul Canning and John Bosco hope his new application for asylum will allow Robert to be released from detention, and that ultimately the UK's Home Office will do the right thing and let him stay.

Robert is "obviously gay" according to everyone that knows him, but whether officials believe Robert is gay or not is mute at this point. According to John Bosco, because Robert claimed to be gay his life is in danger if he is returned to Uganda. He will face the "witch hunt" described by Bishop Senyonjo.
"Once you claim to be gay you can be arrested in Uganda and be in prison your whole life," John Bosco said.


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