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Ugandan Gay Activist John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere Granted Asylum in United States
(Boston) John “Longjones” Abdallah Wambere, a prominent Ugandan gay activist for over 17 years, has been recommended for asylum in the United States, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) announced today. In a letter dated September 11, 2014, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services informed Wambere that his application was recommended for approval, pending a routine security check.
“I am overwhelmed,” said Wambere. “I must say that I am blessed, but there are many stories out there. I call upon everyone who helped me to continue to support LGBTI people around the world and all asylum seekers in the U.S. And my thoughts are with Uganda; I have sleepless nights while I worry about my community there.”
Uganda’s LGBTI community has been under escalating public, political, and physical attack in recent years, culminating in the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and its signing into law on February 24, 2014 by President Yoweri Museveni. Wambere, a co-founder of Spectrum Uganda Initiatives, has been in the U.S. since February and filed for asylum on May 6, 2014.
“We are thrilled that John will be able to continue his important work on behalf of the Ugandan LGBTI community from the United States, where he will be free from arrests and incarceration because of his sexual orientation and bold activism,” said Allison Wright, GLAD Staff Attorney.
“The United States must continue to grant asylum to LGBTI people from around the world who can’t enjoy the most basic freedoms in their countries of origin, and whose lives are threatened simply because of who they are,” said Janson Wu, GLAD Senior Staff Attorney. “Asylum is a life-saving system that protects vulnerable members of the LGBTI community forced to flee places like Uganda, Russia, and Jamaica, where it is fundamentally unsafe to be out.”
The anti-homosexuality law criminalized a broad range of offenses and imposed severe penalties ranging from 7 years in jail to life imprisonment. It has since been struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court on technical grounds, but lawmakers have vowed to re-introduce it and pass it. Whether or not lawmakers follow through with their promise, homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda under Penal Code 145. Penal Code 145, which criminalizes “unnatural offenses,” has been on the books since the 1950s and is still heavily enforced in Uganda.
In Uganda, Wambere was outed as gay by newspapers, harassed by strangers, received death threats from anonymous phone calls, arrested, evicted from his home, and beaten up. Under the Anti-Homosexuality Act, he would have faced life imprisonment and still faces the threat of arrest should he return to Uganda under Penal Code 145.
The country conditions report submitted with Wambere’s application for asylum can be read at www.glad.org/work/cases/in-re-wambere, as well as his redacted affidavit.
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has been promoted by American evangelicals such as Scott Lively, who travelled to the country to preach and promote what was at the time called the “Kill the Gays” bill because it included the death penalty, which was later removed. On August 15, 2014, a federal judge ruled in the case Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively that Lively must stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Resources for LGBTI people seeking asylum in the U.S. can be found by contacting www.GLADAnswers.org.
In addition to GLAD, John Wambere is represented by Hema Sarang-Sieminski of the Law Office of Hema Sarang-Sieminksi.
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Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.