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November 28, 2014 | Last Updated 11:39 PM
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National & Provincial
Feb 19 2014 10:35PM
 
Gay activist held at OR Tambo
In hot water: Ugandan doctor Paul Semugoma, who was detained at the OR International Airport pending deportation, lives in fear he could be sentenced to a heavy prison term in his home country for being gay.
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Irvine Makuyana

Pressure is mounting on the Department of Home Affairs to release a Ugandan doctor and gay rights activist held at OR Tambo International Airport pending his deportation.

Dr Paul Semugoma could be jailed for 14 years for his activism around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) issues should he be sent back to Kampala.

The high court ordered the release of Semugoma late on Tuesday night, but immigration officials snubbed the ruling, civil society groups have reported.

He was arrested and detained on Monday arriving from Zimbabwe.

Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa yesterday said the department had not ignored the court ruling but was in fact applying for leave to appeal the South Gauteng High Court interim order.

“The order was granted without the Department of Home Affairs having had representation in court in line with the audi alterem partem (hear the other side too) rule,” Mamoepa said. He said Semugoma was denied entry into South Africa because of his failure to comply with provisions of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002.

“In this regard, Dr Semugoma‘s visitors visa has expired and it is on this basis that entry into South Africa has been denied.”

Ugandan political analyst Kenneth Wamayi yesterday said: “Deporting him is a very poor decision. This is at a time when President Yoweri Museveni is gearing up for elections.

“He will ensure that Semugoma gets arrested, charged and sent to jail to rot.”

Late on Tuesday night, Semugoma’s legal representatives managed to get a court order to block his deportation and secure his release.

“However, immigration officials unlawfully refused to release him,” Glenn de Swardt, representative spokesperson for several pressure groups, said. “As a result his lawyers are returning to the South Gauteng High Court to secure another order for his release.”

Semugoma fled to South Africa after his colleague, David Kato, was reportedly murdered in 2011 for gay rights activism.

The Home Affairs decision to deport Semugoma came the same day that the Joint UN Programme on HIV-Aids slammed the signing of an anti-homosexuality bill into law by Museveni.

The bill calls for a 14-year jail term for a first conviction and imprisonment for life for the offence of aggravated homosexuality.

Semugoma was at loggerheads with the Ugandan parliament in fighting the bill when the legislation was being drafted.

“He presented how the bill, not only is a human rights infringement, but also a health access dilemma to the men who have sex with men community,” De Swardt said.

“The human rights situation in Uganda has deteriorated and the LGBT community is particularly vulnerable at this time.”

The Department of Home Affairs rejected Semugoma’s special skills application, which has been pending since March 2012. “The application was lost twice by the Department of Home Affairs,” De Swardt said.

irvinem@thenewage.co.za

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