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February 09, 2012

Gay Activist Calls Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Absurd

by Douglas Mpuga

A gay rights activist has condemned the re-introduction of a bill in Uganda's parliament that calls for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, described the revival of the bill as absurd.

“This bill is not only about homosexuality but it can actually target the heterosexual community, who, for instance, fail to disclose people they know are homosexuals,” said Mugisha, who won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award last year.

The bill was formally reintroduced in parliament Tuesday after lawmakers voted last year to pass it over to the new session after failing to debate it.

Originally tabled in 2009, the bill calls for "serial offender[s]" to face the death penalty, and proposes jail sentences for family members and landlords who fail to report homosexuals to the authorities. Mugisha finds the bill’s intents excessive.

“Fundamental extremism is witnessed in this legislation,” he says. “It is asking for extreme measures such as killing someone who is perceived to be homosexual.”

“This bill,” he added, “penalizes two consenting adults who have not harmed anyone.”

The proposed law would introduce the death sentence for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for the second time, as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV. All that, Mugisha said, contradicts the constitution.

The bill also proposes to criminalize public discussion of homosexuality - including by rights groups - with a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

US President Barack Obama has described the bill as "odious.”

Mugisha said if passed, the bill is likely to bring disharmony and hate in society.

“Imagine the bill asks people to report on each other. It will bring hate within families,” he said. “We will do everything possible to see that this bill doesn’t become law in Uganda,” vowed Mugisha.  

He said in a country where people don’t quite understand the law, the threat might not be the state or law enforcement, but people who think this [legislation] is already law.

“Some people who are perceived to be gay have already been attacked – and violence is likely to increase,” he said.

At an African Union summit last month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged African leaders to respect gay rights, a controversial issue in many African countries.