Prominent Ugandan gay activist to be granted asylum in U.S.

Ugandan gay-rights activist John Abdallah Wambere holds a Ugandan newspaper during a news conference Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in Boston. Wambere is seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape a harsh anti-homosexual law in his home country. The 41-year-old, who now lives in Cambridge, Mass., said Tuesday it is heartbreaking he will have to leave his community at home as well as his 16-year-old daughter, but it is too dangerous to return. Josh Reynolds, AP

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 Tuesday.

Ugandan gay-rights activist John Abdallah Wambere holds a Ugandan newspaper during a news conference Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in Boston. Wambere is seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape a harsh anti-homosexual law in his home country. The 41-year-old, who now lives in Cambridge, Mass., said Tuesday it is heartbreaking he will have to leave his community at home as well as his 16-year-old daughter, but it is too dangerous to return.Josh Reynolds, AP

Ugandan gay-rights activist John Abdallah Wambere holds a Ugandan newspaper during a news conference in Boston on May 6 after filing for asylum.

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 LGBTQ 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.

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“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 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.

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