Uganda approves legislation on homosexuality

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uganda flagUGANDA — The Ugandan Parliament announced on Friday that it had approved legislation imposing harsh penalties on gay people, including life imprisonment for what it called “aggravated homosexuality,” effectively brushing aside previous objections to antigay legislation from outside powers.

In addition to prohibiting “any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex,” the law seemed to echo Russia’s so-called gay propaganda law, criminalizing “the promotion or recognition” of homosexual relations “through or with the support of any government entity in Uganda or any other nongovernmental organization inside or outside the country.”

Specifically, the law — officially titled the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 — provides for a 14-year jail term for a first conviction and “imprisonment for life for the offense of aggravated homosexuality,” a Parliament announcement said.

“The bill aims at strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family,” the announcement said, quoting a Parliament committee.

“I am officially illegal,” a gay activist, Frank Mugisha, was quoted by news agencies as saying when the legislation was approved on Friday.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but David Bahati, a lawmaker who has led the campaign for tougher action, said existing laws needed to be strengthened to prevent Westerners from promoting homosexuality among young Ugandans.

In particular, Western threats to link the future of hundreds of millions of dollars to the question of Uganda’s antigay legislation stirred accusations of Western neo-colonialism and double standards.

Last year, for instance, the opposition leader Kizza Besigye said Western pressure was “misplaced” and “even annoying.”

“There are more obvious, more prevalent and harmful violations of human rights that are glossed over,” Mr. Besigye said. “Their zeal over this matter makes us look at them with cynicism to say the least.”

According to the announcement by Parliament on Friday, a legislative committee said “that there is need to protect the children and youth of Uganda who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviations as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technologies, parentless child development settings and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption and foster care.”

But the announcement acknowledged that a handful of lawmakers had opposed the law. “What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom should not be the business of this Parliament,” two independent legislators, Sam Otada and Fox Odoi, said in a minority report. “It is not right to have the state allowed in the bedrooms of people.”

The legislation was strongly supported by the country’s influential evangelical pastors, some of them with links to American religious figures.

When the bill was reintroduced last year, it deepened tensions within parts of Uganda’s religious and traditional society between advocates and opponents. At one point, a government minister personally broke up a clandestine gay rights meeting in a hotel, saying gay people should face the firing squad.

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