The United States of America has sanctioned Uganda’s prisons boss, alongside thirty other individuals from across the global south, over his leadership of an organization that presides over the torture of the LGBTQI+ community.
Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prison’s Service (UPS) is one of the individuals from nine countries sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act (GMA) over what the United States of America’s treasury department says is his leadership of an entity engaged in human rights violations.
In a press release that announced the sanctioning of two Afghan officials for repression of girls, the son of a Central African Republic (CAR) former President and leaders of militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Byabashaija is the only Ugandan official singled out for this round of the GMA.
Other individuals sanctioned from across the world include four alleged leaders of Haitian criminal gangs, two Iranian Intelligence officers, a mayor in the Liberian capital Monrovia, two Chinese government officials and three South Sudanese that are accused of commanding soldiers responsible for systemic rape of women and girls.
The GMA, which can impoverish individuals even in cash economies such as Uganda, is one of the harshest punishments. It has been welcomed by Robert Kyagulanyi, who leads the largest opposition party in the country and is commonly known by his pop name Bobi Wine.
Speaking via his X handle, Bobi Wine, the musician turned politician announced his happiness over the American government’s decision to punish President Yoweri Museveni’s officials engaging in human rights violation.
“We are glad that the cry of our people of Uganda is being heard by the world,” he says, adding that the travel restrictions, as well as sanctions under the office of foreign assets control are a good reminder that there will be consequences to those who abuse rights with impunity.
One consequence of the sanctions from the office of foreign assets control is that individuals such as Byashaija cannot keep or receive money in a bank or mobile money account.
The sanctioning of Byabashaija over his presiding over an entity that prevented access to lawyers for jailed members of the LGBTQI+ community confirms speculation among Uganda’s political class that the visa restrictions announced on December 4 by the USA’s Secretary of State, were intended to punish supporters of the anti-Homosexuality Act.
In the statement announcing the sanctions, the treasury department noted that all property and interests in property of the designated persons would either be blocked or reported to the United States.
While Byabashaija and his supporters have always argued that his organization has little influence over human rights violations such as torture and the keeping of suspects in prisons for long periods of time without trial, the United States of America says reforms are expected, otherwise the prisons boss can expect to live with the sanctions all his life.
The sanctions suggest validity in speculation that the United States of America is just focusing on LGBTQI+ human rights, while ignoring other violations that include the abduction, torture, and detention of members of the opposition.
“In a 2020 case, the UPS denied a group of LGBTQI+ persons access to their lawyers and members of the group reportedly endured physical abuse, including a forced anal examination and scalding,” notes an excerpt from the statement announcing the sanctions against Byabashaija.
The GMA Act targeting Byabashaija comes days after the Secretary of State announced visa restrictions over support of the anti-gay law that Uganda’s Parliament passed in May this year.
In a statement, the USA’s Secretary of State announced visa restrictions targeting officials that repress environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organizers complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies.
While the statement references repression of marginalized or vulnerable groups, it does not clearly state the visa restrictions were over the antigay law.
However, a Parliament session just after the release of the visa restriction statement suggested many leaders knew what was going on.
Anita Among, the Speaker of Parliament, has for example announced that her USA visa had been revoked over the antigay law, but added that it did not matter as she had a home in her district and at her husband’s home where she could live happily without needing to travel.
“We will continue protecting the family, protecting the rights of our children and our country, and we will not live on handouts. My Visa was cancelled, have I died?” she told Parliament.
Asuman Basalirwa the mover of the law and a member of the opposition whose first election campaign was spearheaded by Bobi Wine has previously said he has no interest in going to the global north, as his travels outside Uganda often take him to Muslim majority countries such as Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that do not also accept homosexuality.
Basalirwa has also disavowed claims by Bobi Wine that members of the opposition had been bought by President Museveni to pass the antigay law.
Bobi Wine is one of the early victims of visa sanctions by the global West, as he was banned from going to the United Kingdom in 2014. This followed accusations by gay activists that he was inciting homophobia through song.
The ban has only just been lifted and Bobi Wine appeared too eager to go back to the United Kingdom and has even been accused by his admirers of not serving the interests of Ugandans when it comes to how he is reacting to manipulation by the imperialists.
While in the UK, he sought to distance himself from the antigay law, saying he had learnt from the mistakes of his youth and President Museveni was wrong to assent to the law.