Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Uganda's anti-gay bill could become law this week

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Violent homophobia is rife in Uganda, where last year
one newspaper called for gays to be hanged
A bill criminalising homosexuality, which caused international outrage when it was initially proposed in 2009, has resurfaced in the Ugandan parliament in recent days, and could become law as early as this week. The bill initially included the death penalty for certain same-sex acts and, while that aspect has now been dropped, with the bill's author, David Bahati, saying it is "something we have moved away from", any version adopted this week is likely to include harsh prison sentences, with one pastor, Martin Ssempa, proposing seven-year terms for gay Ugandans.

A Ugandan human rights organisation, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, has called for the bill to be withdrawn, and has suggested (PDF) that its re-emergence may be intended to distract Ugandans from the government's recent suppression of opposition protests. This is a view shared by the author of the Gay Uganda blog, who urges international readers to speak out against the anti-gay bill in the context of Uganda's wider human rights issues.

The Ugandan parliament's session ends this week, meaning there may not be time for the bill's supporters to secure its passage, but Frank Mugisha, director of the gay-rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told Associated Press he believes it will pass if it is deliberated in the next few days.

An online petition calling on the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to prevent the bill's passage has attracted more than 200,000 signatures from around the world. There is still time to add your name.

Violent homophobia is rife in Uganda, and the country has attracted international headlines on numerous occasions in recent years. Evangelical churches, influenced, some believe, by the homophobic doctrines of religious leaders from the US, play a key role in propagating hatred in the country, alongside the media, which is notorious for its vehemently anti-gay stance. Last year one newspaper published a list of 100 Ugandans, calling for them to be hanged for homosexuality, and in January of this year one of the men named, the leading gay rights activist David Kato, was beaten to death in his home in Kampala.
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