Uganda considers death sentence for gay sex in bill before parliament

Life imprisonment is the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex, under an anti-homosexuality bill currently before Uganda’s parliament. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a “person of authority” over the other partner, or if the “victim” is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.

Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police with 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail – a scenario that human rights campaigners say will result in a witchhunt. Ugandans breaking the new law abroad will be subject to extradition requests.

“The bill is haunting us,” said Mugisha, 25, chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a coalition of local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups that will all be banned under the law. “If this passes we will have to leave the country.”

Human rights groups within and outside Uganda have condemned the proposed legislation, which is designed to strengthen colonial-era laws that already criminalise gay sex. The issue threatened to overshadow the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, with the UK and Canada both expressing strong concerns. Ahead of the meeting Stephen Lewis, a former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, said the law “makes a mockery of Commonwealth principles” and has “a taste of fascism” about it.

But within Uganda deeply-rooted homophobia, aided by a US-linked evangelical campaign alleging that gay men are trying to “recruit” schoolchildren, and that homosexuality is a habit that can be “cured”, has ensured widespread public support for the bill.

Homosexuality has always been a taboo subject in Uganda, and is considered by many to be an affront both to local culture and religion, which plays a strong role in family life. This stigma and the real threat of job loss means that no public personality has ever “come out”.

Even local HIV campaigns – which have been heavily influenced by the evangelical church with a bias towards abstinence over condom use – have deliberately avoided targeting gay men for both prevention and access to treatment.

“This means many gay men here think Aids is a non-issue, which is so dangerous,” said Mugisha, who together with a few colleagues, has risked arrest by agitating in recent years for a change in the HIV policy.

At the same time, some influential religious leaders have warned about the dangers of accepting liberal western attitudes towards homosexuality.

Both opponents and supporters agree that the impetus for the a more hardline law came in March during a seminar in Kampala to “expose the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda“.

Edited version of longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/29/uganda-death-sentence-gay-sex

See also: Sign the Petition to the British Prime Minister to Condemn Uganda’s proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill”



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