20 February 2014

South Africa: Gay Rights Doctor Narrowly Avoids Deportation to Uganda - Home Affairs Accused of Contempt of Court

Photo: Peter Atchell
Protesters against Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill (file photo).

Release Paul Nsubuga Semugoma. That was the essence of a court order against the Minister of Home Affairs yesterday. Yet, Home Affairs proceeded to attempt to deport him after the court order was made. As of last night he was reportedly still in custody.

Ugandan medical doctor and human rights activist Semugoma was arrested in South Africa on 18 February pending deportation to his country of birth.

Semugoma has been in the forefront of the fight against the Anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda. He presented to the Ugandan parliament on how the bill is not only an infringement of human rights, but how it also poses a dilemma for access to health for men who have sex with men.

With the new legislation and feelings running high, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is particularly vulnerable at this time in Uganda.

Semugomo's partner, Brian Kanyemba, told GroundUp that Semugoma refused to board a plane when the immigration officers took him to the airport.

"As we are speaking, his lawyer, Ayanda Khumalo, is negotiating with the immigration officers here at the airport," said Kanyemba.

Glenn de Swardt of Anova Healthcare, where Semugoma works, said the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) is acting contrary to a South Gauteng High Court order which ruled that Semugomo should be released.

According to a statement released by the Treatment Action Campaign under the banner of the SA National Aids Council Civil Society Sector, Sonke Gender Justice, Anova Health Institute, Coalition of African Lesbians and SECTION27, Semugoma's life may be in danger should he be deported to Uganda.

His close friend, David Kato, was murdered in 2011. Semugoma felt he was no longer safe and decided to move to South Africa with his partner where he has been a volunteer doctor at Anova Health Institute for the past three years, working specifically with men who have sex with men.

The organisation's statement says, Semugoma's special skills application has been pending since March 2012. His application was lost twice by the DHA. A case was lodged and he was requested to re-apply, which he did in April 2013 and again in August 2013.

Semugoma was allowed to travel using his official passport and a receipt from the department. He made several trips in and out of South Africa, but when Semugoma returned from a meeting in Zimbabwe earlier this week, he was arrested.

The civil society organisations are urgently attempting to halt his deportation as they say Semugoma is "wanted" in Uganda for his activism around LGBT issues in his country.

Home Affairs says it will attend to the matter. However there are long delays. The Deputy Director General for Immigration Services Jackie McKay is handling the case. He says Semugoma was not supposed to travel.

McKay has confirmed that should the South African documents not be resolved they will try to send Semugoma to Zimbabwe, although this is not yet finalised.

In a statement released late yesterday, Ronnie Mamoepa of Home Affairs denied that the the department had ignored the court order.

He said Semugoma's visitor's visa had expired and that was why entry into the country was denied. Mamoepa also said that the court order was granted without Home Affairs being represented in court. The department is appealing the court order.

As of last night, Semugoma was staying in a transit hotel near the airport, and still detained by Home Affairs. Law firm Webber Wentzel are representing him and trying to secure his release. A further court case in this matter is expected today.

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