The parliament in East African Uganda passed a law on Tuesday that provides for harsh penalties for same-sex relationships. According to media reports, homosexual acts could in future be punished with life imprisonment, and "serious" cases even with death. According to Al Jazeera news channel, severe cases include "homosexual sex with people under the age of 18 or when a person is HIV positive."
Apparently that's not enough. The "recruitment, promotion and financing" of same-sex "activities" should also be punished with life imprisonment. In other words, friends, family members and acquaintances of homosexuals would be required to report people with same-sex relationships to the authorities. This would make Uganda the first country in Africa to criminalize membership of the LGBTQ community.
The MPs had significantly changed the original text of the law. This provided up to ten years in prison for people who commit same-sex acts or identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. The abbreviation LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. It was initially not clear what penalties the new law provides for exactly.
Parliament Speaker Annet Anita Among said after the final vote, in which all but two of the 389 MPs voted to increase penalties, "the law was passed in record time". As the law was passed, parliamentarians kept shouting homophobic comments. One of the deputies called for the castration of homosexuals. MP John Musila wore a smock that read: "Say No To Homosexual, Lesbianism, Gay".
The draft must now be submitted to President Yoweri Museveni, who can either approve it or veto it. However, it is unlikely that Museveni would choose the latter: Museveni, who has been at the helm of government since 1986, is himself considered homophobic. In a CNN interview a few years ago, for example, he called homosexuals "disgusting", and only recently he described them as "deviants" - the West is trying aggressively to "normalize" homosexuality in other countries.
Human Rights Watch previously criticized the law. "The potential ramifications are far-reaching," said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda research fellow at Human Rights Watch. Aside from restricting fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, this type of criminalization of people creates a climate of fear and encourages discrimination. "The bill is poorly thought out, it contains provisions that are unconstitutional, it undoes achievements in the fight against gender-based violence and criminalizes individuals instead of behavior that violates all known legal norms," said Odoi-Oywelowo, one of only two MPs who voted against the law, according to the British Guardian. Activist Eric Ndawula tweeted: "Today's events in Parliament are not only immoral but a complete assault on humanity."
Homosexuality is already forbidden in Uganda, a largely conservative Christian country. The strict laws are a legacy of the British colonial era. However, since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, there has been no conviction for consensual homosexual acts.
The new law is widely supported in Uganda. Conspiracy theories have been rife in recent months accusing international forces of promoting homosexuality in Uganda.
Last week, police in the southern city of Jinja announced they had arrested six men for "practicing homosexuality." Another six men were arrested on Sunday on the same charge.
In 2014, Uganda's judiciary blocked a law already approved by MPs and signed by President Museveni that punishes same-sex relationships with life imprisonment. The project sparked outrage around the world.
"There's a lot of blackmail going on. People get calls saying, 'If you don't give me money, I'll report you're gay,'" an activist told the BBC. According to The Guardian, more than 110 members of the LGBTQ community in Uganda reported arrests, sexual violence, evictions and public disrobing to the Sexual Minorities Uganda advocacy group in the past month alone.
However, Uganda is only part of a homophobic wave that recently swept the region. In other East African countries, too, the climate for gays and lesbians has recently worsened. A leading politician from the Tanzanian ruling party called for the castration of homosexual people at the weekend. Kenya's President William Ruto said in early March that homosexuality had no place in his country.
Same-sex relationships are currently banned in around 30 African countries.
Sources: "Africa News"; "The Guardians"; "BBC"; "Al Jazeera"; with material from the news agencies DPA and AFP