BBC News, Kampala
People who identify as gay in Uganda risk life in prison after parliament passed a new bill to crack down on homosexual activities.
It also includes the death penalty in certain cases.
A rights activist told the BBC the debate around the bill had led to fear of more attacks on gay people.
“There is a lot of blackmail. People are receiving calls that ‘if you don’t give me money, I will report that you are gay,'” they said.
The bill is one of the toughest pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa.
Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda but this bill introduces many new criminal offences.
As well as making merely identifying as gay illegal for the first time, friends, family and members of the community would have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities.
It was passed with widespread support in Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday evening.
Amnesty International has called the bill, which criminalises same-sex between consenting adults “appalling”, “ambiguous” and “vaguely worded”.
“This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalise discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTI people – including those who are perceived to be LGBTI – and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa.
It has also been condemned by both the UK’s Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The White House has warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the new law comes into force.
In the weeks before the debate, anti-homosexual sentiment was prominent in the media, an activist who wanted to remain anonymous told the BBC.
“Members of the queer community have been blackmailed, extorted for money or even lured into traps for mob attacks,” the activist said.
“In some areas even law enforcers are using the current environment to extort money from people who they accuse of being gay. Even some families are reporting their own children to the police.”
The bill will now go to President Yoweri Museveni who can choose to use his veto – and maintain good relations with Western donors and investors – or sign it into law.
He has made several anti-gay comments in recent weeks, and also criticised Western countries for putting pressure on Uganda over the issue.
Another gay rights activist accused the government of using the bill to distract the public from its failures to address some of their pressing economic concerns.
“They are trying to drum up anti-gay rhetoric to divert attention from really what is important to Ugandans in general. There is no reason why you should have a bill that criminalises individuals that are having consensual same-sex adult relationships,” Clare Byarugaba, LGBTQ+ Rights Activist, Chapter Four Uganda told the BBC.
The bill’s backers say they are trying to protect children but Ms Byarugaba said: “Whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual, the government and parliament should introduce laws, or at least implement existing laws that protect all children – boys, girls from defilement. So the issue of recruitment has been unproven, it is baseless, it is biased.””
What does the bill say?
The final version has yet to be officially published but elements discussed in parliament include:
- A person who is convicted of grooming or trafficking children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities faces life in prison
- Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBT rights’ activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment
- Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, distribution of any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality”
- Death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality”, that is sexual abuse of a child, a person with disability or vulnerable people, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness
- Property owners also face risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights’ activities
A small group of Ugandan MPs on a committee scrutinising the bill disagreed with its premise. They argue the offences it seeks to criminalise are already covered in the country’s Penal Code Act.
In 2014, Uganda’s constitutional court nullified another act which had toughened laws against the LGBT community.
It included making it illegal to promote and fund LGBT groups and activities, as well as reiterating that homosexual acts should be punished by life imprisonment, and was widely condemned by Western countries.
The court ruled that the legislation be revoked because it had been passed by parliament without the required quorum.
Same-sex relations are banned in about 30 African countries, where many people uphold conservative religious and social values.