Human rights organisations worldwide are appealing to Minister Naledi Pandor and the Department of Home Affairs to immediately comply with a court order instructing that Ugandan doctor Paul Nsubuga Semugoma must be released from detention.
Immigration officials at OR Tambo International Airport have ignored an order delivered on Tuesday night by the South Gauteng High Court halting the imminent deportation of Dr Semugoma as well as ordering his release from custody.
Dr Semugoma, a Ugandan medical doctor and human rights activist has been under arrest at the airport since Monday 17 February and is facing the threat of deportation to his country of birth. Yesterday immigration officials took Dr Semugoma to the boarding gate for an SAA flight to Uganda. Activists phoned the airline and other officials informing them of the court order. Dr Semugoma resisted boarding the flight and SAA refused to transport the activist doctor.
According to Ugandan activists, Dr Semugoma is on a “wanted list” in Uganda for his activism around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights issues in his country.
He has also been at the forefront in a battle with the Ugandan Parliament, fighting an Anti-homosexuality Bill, where he presented how the bill not only is a human rights infringement but also a health access dilemma for men who have sex with men (MSM).
The human rights situation in Uganda has deteriorated, and the LGBT community is particularly vulnerable at this time.
One of Dr Semugoma’s close friends David Kato was murdered in Uganda in 2011. Soon after this Dr Semugoma moved to South Africa with his partner. He has been a volunteering his time at the Anova Health Institute for the past three years, disseminating topical information to clinicians working in the field of HIV.
Dr Semugoma's special skills visa application has been pending since March 2012. His application was lost twice by the Department of Home Affairs. He has subsequently re-submitted his application repeatedly. Dr Semugoma was allowed to travel using his official passport and a receipt from the department confirming his application.
After several trips in and out of South Africa, Dr Semugoma returned from a meeting in Zimbabwe earlier this week and was arrested at OR Tambo Airport.
On Tuesday (18 February) lawyers managed to get a court order to halt Dr Semugoma’s threatened deportation and to order his release. However immigration officials refused to release him and filed an appeal against the order on Wednesday (19 February). As a result his lawyers are returning to the South Gauteng High Court at 11:00am today (Thursday 20 February) to force the department to comply with the court order. Activists will gather at the court in support of Paul’s release.
Mark Heywood, Executive Director, SECTION27 –
“The treatment of Paul is a disgrace and makes SA complicit with the homophobia and violence of the Ugandan government towards its LGBTI citizens. It's also an indication of the lack of respect for human rights with which many foreign nationals, especially refugees are treated. The failure by the Department of Home Affairs to comply with the court order not to deport Paul undermines the independence of the judiciary.”
Marcus Low, Head of policy, Treatment Action Campaign –
“It is deeply disturbing that the Department of Home Affairs are refusing to comply with an order of court. This directly undermines the authority of the judiciary. The Department of Home Affairs must explain to the public why they are disregarding an order of court in this way.”
Glenn de Swardt, Programme Manager of Health4Men at the Anova Health Institute –
“Any violation of the rule of law, especially ignoring a Court order, is deeply disconcerting. We abhor any violation of human rights, and we deplore the Department of Home Affairs’ disregard for Dr Paul Semugoma’s rights, bearing in mind that his life would be jeopardized if he were to be deported to Uganda. We hope that the department will reconsider its stance in the light of our own Constitution’s recognition of human rights, which include prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity. Dr Semugomo’s deportation would create an international human rights crisis and a challenge to decades of HIV-related intervention among vulnerable populations in Africa.”
THIS STATEMENT IS jointly RELEASED by the SA NATIONAL AIDS COUNCIL CIVIL SOCIETY SECTOR, TREATMENT ACTION CAMPAIGN, SONKE GENDER JUSTICE, THE ANOVA HEALTH INSTITUTE, COALITION OF AFRICAN LESBIANS and SECTION27
Glenn de Swardt 0716715875
Marcus Low 0829628309