NEWS
05/23/2014 11:31 EDT | Updated 07/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Ugandan Gay Activists Denied Canadian Entry Visas

ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, a Kenyan gay wears a mask to preserve his anonymity as they stage a rare protest, against Uganda's increasingly tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met in his office with a team of U.S.-based rights activists concerned about legislation that would impose life sentences for some homosexual acts and made clear he had no plans to sign the bill, according to Santiago Canton of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights who attended the Jan. 18, 2014 meeting, but one month later Museveni appears to have changed his mind, saying through a spokesman in February 2014 that he would sign the bill

The head of a Canadian gay rights group is "profoundly disappointed" that 10 Ugandan LGBT activists have been denied visitor visas to attend a World Pride conference in Toronto next month.

The group of 10 Ugandans, a mix of men and women, are among 400 delegates from across the world invited to the June 25 to 27 World Pride human rights conference at the University of Toronto.

The Canadian government has expressed concerns the Ugandans will try to seek political asylum in Canada.

Michael Battista, chair of Rainbow Railroad, a group that helps find save havens for LGBT people who face persecution or violence from being members of the LGBT community, says Canada is missing an opportunity to show its opposition to Ugandan anti-gay laws, which he says are severe.

"[The Ugandans] were coming here to share their experiences and to work with others around the world who face similar issues and to advance LGBT rights," he said during an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday.

Battista said over the past year, there's been a "severe crackdown" on LGBT rights in Uganda. He said Ugandans can face long jail sentences for suspicion of being involved in a same-sex relationship. He said the Ugandan media also regularly publishes stories that out people suspected of being gay.

"The government has passed several laws, each law increasing in its severity in terms of penalizing the LGBT community for being who they are," said Battista.

He said members of the Ugandan delegation may have a legitimate claim to asylum if they do decide to file an application while they're in Toronto.

"They are putting themselves in extreme danger, these are incredibly courageous people, people who put themselves on the front lines and help others in the LGBT community who are at risk," he said.

"If they should change their minds while they're here and decide that they can't take it anymore and decide they want to live their lives in safety, what is so wrong with that? They aren't doing anything illegal."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been critical of Uganda's anti-gay laws.

Battista said his group will continue to push the government to try and allow the Ugandans to get the visas they need to attend the conference.

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