NAIROBI, Kenya – Ugandan lawmakers have passed a far-reaching anti-gay law that can carry harsh penalties such as the death penalty – the culmination of a long campaign to criminalize homosexuality and attack LGBTQ people in the conservative East African nation.
The law, approved late Tuesday evening after more than seven hours of debate and amendments, contemplates the life sentence for those who engage in same-sex relationships.
Even attempting to have same-sex relationships would be punishable by seven years in prison.
The death penalty would apply to those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” a broad term defined in law as homosexual acts committed by any person infected with HIV or involving children, disabled people, or any drugged person against their strength of will.
Most of these acts are already gender-neutral crimes under the Ugandan Penal Code, but the death penalty was added to the bill to focus on cases where the perpetrator and victim are of the same sex.
The parliamentary vote culminates in a fight for gay rights in Uganda that has garnered international attention for nearly 15 years.
It comes at a time when anti-gay and anti-discrimination policies have come into effect increase in several African countries, e.g Kenya, Ghana and Zambia.
Ugandan legislation, call Law against homosexualityit also imposes a fine of up to 1 billion Ugandan shillings (about $264,000) on any entity convicted of promoting homosexuality.
Those under 18 convicted of engaging in homosexuality face up to three years in prison, along with a “rehabilitation” period.
“This house will continue to pass laws that recognize, protect and safeguard the sovereignty, morals and cultures of this country,” said Anita Annet Among, Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, as lawmakers finished voting.
The bill will now go to the president. Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan leader for nearly four decades who has been an outspoken advocate of anti-gay measures.
He has in the past accused gays of undermining Uganda’s stability and in recent weeks has called them “deviant”.
Museveni is also a close ally of the West, whose nation receives nearly a billion dollars a year in US development aid.
He has pushed for anti-gay action despite calls from Western nations to respect the rights of LGBTQ citizens and in defiance of threats to cut aid.
Wednesday the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken he urged the Ugandan government to “strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation,” saying it would undermine the rights of Ugandans and “could reverse progress” in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The bill’s passage was heavily criticized by rights groups and some Ugandan lawmakers, who said it violated the freedoms of Ugandans and further eroded gay rights.
Volker Türk, head of human rights at the United Nations, called the anti-gay law “probably one of the The worst of its kind in the world” and said it could “serve to incite people against each other.
Homosexuality is illegal in at least three dozen African countries, with penalties ranging from a fine to life in prison.
Worldwide, the death sentence for same-sex relationships is imposed in only a handful of countries, including Iran and Mauritania, according to a study by Human Rights Watch.
The bill was introduced in early March by MP Asuman Basalirwa, who said homosexuality threatened family values and the safety of Ugandan children. Basalirwa did not respond to a request for an interview.
But speaking on Wednesday at a public forum at Makerere University in the capital Kampala, Basalirwa doubled down, saying the law was needed because there was “public outcry” over a plot to recruit schoolchildren for homosexuality, a charge that i rights advocates have claimed it is unfounded.
In Uganda, a country of about 46 million people – 85% Christian and 15% Muslim – religious leaders have jointly attacked homosexuality and its impact on the sanctity of the family and children.
Many religious leaders claim that homosexuality is a western import and held protests and rallies urging lawmakers to introduce laws that harshly penalize homosexuals.
But even as anti-gay sentiment has spread in Uganda, LGBTQ people have become more public, mobilizing to defeat anti-gay legislation in court, organizing small Pride parades, representing Uganda at international gay events and creating support groups for gay parents. children.
Activists say the new laws aggravate theThe problems that Ugandan homosexuals already face.
In recent years, authorities have routinely arrested people suspected of being gay or lesbian and detained in gay bars on what human rights groups say are trumped-up charges of drug use, subjecting some of them to invasive physical exams.
The authorities raided and shut down the country’s only gay film festival.
And last month, a senior Ugandan army officer urged health officials not to treat gays in government health centres.
Last year, authorities also shut down Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organization that advocated for LGBTQ people in the country.
Though the vote came quickly, the campaign to outlaw homosexuality in Uganda has a long history, one that has won the support of evangelical Christians in the United States and international outrage from LGBTQ people and human rights defenders.
Evangelical groups have faced scrutiny and backlash for their role, including a lawsuit filed by a Ugandan rights group in the United States.
Since then, American evangelical organizations have operated out of the public eye, allowing local leaders and groups to stoke anti-gay sentiment in Uganda, said Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist.
“They have worked very meticulously over the past five years to mobilize a constituency, stir up public sentiment and spread disinformation as the basis for this law,” Opiyo said in a telephone interview.
The legislation approved on Tuesday was a revised version of a tough 2014 law signed by Museveni that punished “aggravated homosexuality“with life imprisonment.
But the same year, Uganda’s Constitutional Court annulled the law, on the grounds that it had been approved by Parliament without the necessary quorum.
Instead, for Tuesday night’s vote, lawmakers filled parliamentary chambers.
The vote count was 387 in favor and two against. But 168 lawmakers were absent.
Opiyo said he and other rights advocates planned to try to persuade the president not to sign the bill.
If they sign it, they say, they will challenge it in court.
Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s few openly gay activists, said he was already receiving calls and text messages from people concerned for their lives.
Some are considering leaving the country.
“Society has been radicalized for hating LGBTQ people,” Mugisha, who has regularly received death threats and blackmail in the past, said in a telephone interview from Kampala.
“The next few days will be very difficult.”
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Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.