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Uganda passes strict anti-gay law imposing death penalty for some

2023-03-23T20:10:53.627Z


The law, which will now be sent to the president, also contemplates life imprisonment for those who practice homosexual sex.


NAIROBI, Kenya - Lawmakers in Uganda have passed a far-reaching anti-gay law that can carry punishments as severe as the death penalty - the culmination of a long-running campaign to criminalize homosexuality

and target LGBTQ people

in the conservative African nation. Oriental.

The law, approved late Tuesday night after more than seven hours of debate and amendments, provides for life imprisonment

for

anyone who has homosexual relations.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has openly pushed for anti-gay measures.

Photo Badru Katumba/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Even attempting to have homosexual relations would be punishable by seven years in prison.

The death penalty would apply to those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," a broad term defined in the law as homosexual acts committed by any person infected with HIV or involving children, disabled persons, or any drugged person against their willpower.

Most of these acts are already gender-neutral crimes under the Ugandan penal code, but the death penalty has been added to the bill to focus on cases where the perpetrator and victim are of the same sex.

The parliamentary vote culminates a fight for gay rights in Uganda that has attracted international attention for nearly 15 years.

It comes at a time when anti-gay policies and discrimination have been on the

rise

in several African countries, including

Kenya,

Ghana and Zambia.

The Ugandan legislation, called the

Anti-Homosexuality Act

, also imposes a penalty of up to 1 billion Ugandan shillings (about $264,000) on any entity convicted of promoting homosexuality.

Those under the age of 18 convicted of practicing homosexuality face up to three years in prison, along with a period of "rehabilitation."

"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 President

Yoweri Museveni,

Uganda's leader for nearly four decades, who has been an outspoken advocate of anti-gay measures.

He has accused gays in the past 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 development aid from the United States.

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.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

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 infringed on the freedoms of Ugandans and further eroded gay rights.

Volker Türk, the United Nations human rights officer, called the anti-gay law "probably one of 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 fines to life imprisonment.

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 lawmaker Asuman Basalirwa, who has claimed that homosexuality threatens family values ​​and the safety of Ugandan children.

Basalirwa did not respond to a request for an interview.

But on Wednesday, speaking at a public forum at Makerere University in the capital Kampala, Basalirwa doubled down, saying the law was necessary because there was "public outcry" over a plot to recruit schoolboys for homosexuality. , an accusation that rights advocates have said is unsubstantiated.

In Uganda, a country of some 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 have held protests and rallies urging lawmakers to introduce laws that harshly penalize homosexuals.

But even as anti-gay sentiment has become widespread in Uganda, LGBTQ people have become more public, mobilizing to defeat anti-gay legislation in court, holding small Pride parades, representing Uganda at international gay events and creating support groups. for parents of gay children.

Activists say the new laws

will exacerbate the

problems already faced by gay Ugandans.

In recent years, authorities have regularly rounded up people suspected of being gay or lesbian and detained people in gay bars on what human rights groups say are trumped up charges of drug use, subjecting some of them to invasive physical exams.

Authorities have 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 gay people at government health centers.

Last year, the authorities also shut down Sexual Minorities Uganda, an organization that supported LGBTQ people in the country.

Though the vote came swiftly, the campaign to outlaw homosexuality in Uganda has a long history, drawing support from evangelical Christians in the United States and international outrage from LGBTQ people and human rights advocates.

Evangelical groups faced scrutiny and backlash for their role, including a lawsuit from a Ugandan rights group in the United States.

Since then, American evangelical organizations have operated out of the spotlight, allowing local leaders and groups to fuel 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 public sentiment and spread misinformation as the basis for this law," Opiyo said in a telephone interview.

The legislation passed Tuesday was a revised version of a harsh 2014 law signed by Museveni that punished "

aggravated homosexuality

" with life imprisonment.

But the Uganda Constitutional Court struck down the law that same year, on the grounds that it had been passed through Parliament without the necessary quorum.

Instead, for Tuesday night's vote, lawmakers packed parliamentary chambers.

The vote count was 387 in favor and two against.

But 168 legislators were absent.

Opiyo said he and other rights advocates planned to try to talk the president out of signing 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 thinking of leaving the country.

"Society has been radicalized to hate 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 hard."

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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