In a recent decision by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) tribunal, Pastor Martin Ssempa from Makerere Community Church has been instructed to remove posts that stigmatize people living with HIV and AIDS. This directive comes after the EOC found Pastor Ssempa guilty of stigmatization due to negative comments he made on social media regarding a beauty contest for young individuals living with HIV and AIDS.
The EOC tribunal, under the leadership of Joel Fox Ojuko, issued this order on September 27, 2023, at their offices in Kampala’s Kingdom building. Ojuko’s order requires Pastor Ssempa to withdraw any discriminatory and stigmatizing statements from his Twitter page within 14 days, specifically targeting the complainant and all individuals living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.
The Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) had accused Pastor Ssempa of stigmatizing those living with HIV and AIDS through his tweets concerning the Miss HIV beauty pageant.
Ojuko further instructed Pastor Ssempa to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution, the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, the National Policy Guidelines on ending HIV Stigma and Discrimination, and other relevant laws when addressing issues related to HIV and AIDS in Uganda.
Additionally, the Commission ordered Pastor Ssempa to refrain from making statements on social media or mainstream media that contribute to the stigma against people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS.
Pastor Ssempa had previously stated on social media, “Every disease must have a stigma to make it undesirable for the uninfected. This competition is trying to make it a desirable disease. I lost both my sister and brother to HIV. It is a deadly disease. This is not to deny that some people who carry the virus are sexy and pretty.”
The commission’s ruling found that while Pastor Ssempa has the right to freedom of expression, his comments prejudiced the right to freedom of association and led to discrimination against those living with HIV and AIDS.
Ojuko emphasized that Pastor Ssempa cannot use his Twitter posts on social media as a platform for abuse, promotion, and discrimination against individuals living with HIV and AIDS without justifiabl cause. The pastor has stated his intention to appeal the EOC’s decision in the High Court in Kampala.