Gay Ugandan Doctor Facing Deportation From South Africa Rescued By Global Outcry

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Thomas Ndayiragije greeted Dr. Semugoma upon his release. Photo: IGLHRC.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) celebrated the release of Dr. Paul Semugoma, a Ugandan medical doctor and human rights activist, who had been detained by immigration officials at O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa since last Monday and had faced deportation.

Dr. Semugoma was released Thursday when the South African Department of Home Affairs offered him an exceptional skills visa for three years.

Earlier last week, IGLHRC wrote to President Jacob Zuma of South Africa requesting the implementation of a court order to release Dr. Semugoma, and expressing concern over the conditions of detention at the airport. In doing so, IGLHRC stood in solidarity with many human rights activists in South Africa and around the world who also pressured the South African authorities to release Dr. Semugoma.

“Given his outstanding activism on LGBTI rights, Dr. Paul Semugoma’s personal security would not be guaranteed in Uganda at this time,” said Thomas Ndayiragije, Senior Program Officer for Africa at IGLHRC. He added, “I deplore President Museveni’s decision to sign into law the draconian anti-homosexuality bill and we stand by local activists who are fighting to repeal this law and are working toward making Uganda a safe place for all people.”

Dr. Semugoma is a Ugandan medical doctor and prominent advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and communities. He has lived in the Republic of South Africa for the last two years and continued activism work while his application for an exceptional skills visa was pending.

On Monday 17 February 2014, while returning from a business trip in Zimbabwe, he was arrested and detained at O.R. Tambo International Airport. At that time, immigration officials informed Dr. Semugoma that his visa application had been unsuccessful and that he faced imminent deportation to Uganda.

On Tuesday, 19 February, immigration officials presented a one-way ticket to Entebbe, Uganda for Dr. Semugoma, and tried to force him on the plane despite a court order by the South Gauteng High Court demanding his release. There were numerous calls for his release by human rights activists in South Africa and around the world. 

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