The pictures of a raid on an LGBT shelter in Uganda are grainy and shaky but there is no mistaking the look of fear etched on the residents’ faces.
There are 23 men and women sitting in the forecourt of a charity-run facility near Kampala, listening to a municipal mayor and his officials taunt and scream at them from above.
“Who are your parents?” shouts Mayor Hajji Abdul Kiyimba. “Give me your parents’ number. Quickly, give it. Rubbish!”
When he does not get the answers he is seeking, he whips and hits shelter occupants with a four-foot cane. It is a brutal display.
“Who is in charge here… tell me about the condoms? Where did they come from… tell me what you were using condoms for?”
A young man in a blue shirt is quizzed by another interrogator: “Who were you having sex with?”
“I wasn’t having sex with anyone,” he replies.
“Tell us who you were having sex with,” demands the official as his colleagues cackle in the background.
Human rights groups have characterised the incident, which took place on the morning of 29 March as a homophobic attack on a facility offering services to the homeless. Interviews given by municipal officials at the time of the raid lend credence to that view.
“We’ve been told about homosexuals in our area and we’re asking ourselves what to do about it. We’ve told people we’re dealing with it with utmost urgency,” says the municipal information secretary, Vincent Nyanzi.
The camera operator keeps rolling as the police and local officials bind the hands of the shelter residents and tie them together in a human chain. Once completed, they are marched onto the streets in the direction of the police station as local residents harass and abuse them.
“We would like to see their husbands who rented them such a big house,” said one.
“Our daughters are not married, why don’t you marry them instead of engaging in homosexuality,” says another.
Nineteen people from the shelter, including the director of the charity which runs it, were charged by the police.
However, they were not sanctioned under Uganda’s controversial anti-homosexuality law. Instead, they have been charged with disobeying coronavirus regulations on social distancing.
According to the defendants’ lawyer, Patricia Kimera, the authorities have “repurposed” emergency powers designed to tackle the virus and targeted a marginalised group instead.
“It was a trumped-up charge, doing an act that is likely to spread an infectious disease. These are people who were found in a shelter, in a home, in a place they take as home. For me, I still believe that there was no violation at all of any of the rules.”
Ms Kimera has not been allowed to visit her clients, who have been in prison on remand for the past five weeks.
The situation is frustrating she says, with the Uganda prison service identifying 2,000 inmates for early release in order to “de-congest” the system as the virus advances.
“These charges are usually put against LGBT people to ‘teach them a lesson’. Ok, go there on remand even if the case doesn’t proceed, even if it gets dismissed – but let us teach you a lesson.”
A panel of UN human rights experts have raised serious concerns about the raid with UN Special Rapporteur Victor Madrigal-Borloz, calling for the defendants’ release from prison: “I think it is important that there is an immediate consideration of the release of these people and certainly, their access to lawyers.”
For Matwetu Nkosana, the LGBT activist at civil rights group CIVICAS, the raid on the LGBT clinic in Uganda should serve as a worldwide wake-up call, as politicians propose and implement special COVID-19 measures.
“We need to assess these legal instruments. When will they be repealed? The fact is, they usually don’t have a repeal date.”
Sky News contacted the mayor of Nsangi municipality, Hajji Abdul Kiyimba, but he did not wish to comment on this story.
The deputy-police spokesman for the city of Kampala, Patrick Onyango, told us that the incident in question was not a raid but a community initiative “to enforce social distancing and stop the spread of the disease”.
He told Sky News that COVID-19 regulations prohibit dormitory-like facilities, adding: “Unnatural sex is illegal in Uganda but we decided not to charge them with that.”