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LONDON, UK -- In less than 24 hours, more than 1,000 people have joined a petition campaign started on Change.org calling on the Home Office to halt the deportation of Robert Segwanyi to Uganda, where he was imprisoned and tortured for being gay.
Segwanyi is scheduled for deportation on Thursday, Aug. 18, on Kenya Airways KQ410, which leaves Heathrow Airport at 8 pm local time.
“Robert has been badly represented, which is largely why his case has hit a crisis point,” said Paul Canning, a blogger at LGBT Asylum News who launched the campaign on Change.org. “The UK authorities are also being completely unreasonable. There is plenty of evidence Robert is gay and -- of course -- that Uganda is unsafe.”
Uganda’s government continues to threaten gays and lesbians with the infamous “kill the gays” bill, which if passed would make being gay or lesbian a crime punishable by death. While the bill died at the end of the last Parliament in May, Uganda’s government appears willing to resurrect the measure sometime in August.
Gays and lesbians are regularly arrested and tortured in Uganda, and according to LGBT Asylum News, Segwanyi was arrested in 2010 and tortured for being gay. He eventually escaped to the United Kingdom, where he applied for asylum two weeks after his arrival.
John Bosco, one of the few gay men to return to the United Kingdom after being deported to Uganda, met Robert before he was in Haslar detention center (near Portsmouth) and has remained in phone contact.
"It's a really bad time for him and as a gay Ugandan, I know how hard it is to be gay in Uganda as I was arrested and tortured by police,” Bosco told LGBT Asylum News. “Many people have been beaten by the public as soon as you have been labelled being gay. When I was deported by the British, you handed me back to government officers and this is what exactly happened to me. I was beaten up really badly. Robert is in tears and terrified."
A UK immigration judge denied Segwanyi’s asylum appeal, claiming Uganda poses no threat to gays and lesbians.
On Tuesday, Canning started an additional petition on Change.org asking Kenya Airways to refuse to let Segwanyi board his flight. Pilots for Air France refused to fly Joseph Kaute to Cameroon, where he faced five years in prison for being gay. Canning hopes this last-minute campaign will potentially spare Robert’s life.
“I hope Immigration officials do the right thing and let Robert Segwanyi stay in the United Kingdom,” Canning said. “But if they don’t, then I hope Kenya Airways refuses to fly Robert Segwanyi because Robert’s safety is in jeopardy if he is deported to Uganda.”
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo speaks out, too
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who will be in San Diego on Friday, Aug. 19, submitted this letter that is being used as evidence to support Robert Segwanyi. Here is the text of the letter:
To whom it may concern
I am an Anglican Bishop in the Church of Uganda.
For the past few years I have been engaged in advocacy supporting LGBT human rights. In this regard I am currently in the United Kingdom for speaking engagements in Scotland and was interviewed by BBC Radio Four.
The situation of LGBT in Uganda is dire and getting worse. People are being attacked, harassed and we face the revival of the Anti-Homosexuality bill in the Parliament.
Ordinary people are being forced to move because their fellow Ugandans are attacking them: there is a 'witch-hunt' atmosphere regarding LGBT in the country which is unfortunately being encouraged by many of my fellow Christian leaders.
People cannot turn for protection to the authorities and we have a undeveloped support structure amongst the community for those forced to seek shelter - this is a project which I am engaged with.
Any LGBT person returned to Uganda would face this deteriorating situation. Even if they try not to be public concerning their sexuality they will face questioning if they are unmarried, this is the nature of the 'witch hunt'. It is near impossible for anyone to hide.
As well they will undoubtedly face questioning at the airport and will likely face harassment and possibly violence from the police, as we have witnessed before.
It is not safe to return anyone who is LGBT or perceived to be LGBT to Uganda.
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo
Paul Canning’s petition on Change.org asking UK officials to let Segwanyi stay.
Paul Canning’s petition asking Kenya Airways to refuse to fly Segwanyi.
Change.org is the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change — growing by more than 400,000 new members a month, and empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city and country.