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Ugandan gay activists vow to fight 'ignorant' bill

23 December 2013, 18:00

Kampala -Gay rights activists in Uganda vowed Monday a "fight to the end" to stop a draconian anti-homosexuality bill passed by parliament from becoming law in the African nation.

The bill passed last week stipulates that repeat offenders should be jailed for anywhere between two years and life. The text sailed through Uganda's parliament after a death penalty clause was dropped.

"We shall fight this bill up to the end. We are going to challenge the act in front of the court of law and we are also calling up to the president not to sign the law," prominent gay rights activist Frank Mugisha told reporters.

"Members of parliament have shamed and embarrassed Uganda because they have shown their ignorance in passing this bill. They showed how ignorant Uganda is," he said.

However Mugisha said he feared Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, was likely to sign off on the bill despite an international outcry -- saying the legislation did have widespread support in the fiercely homophobic nation.

"There is a lot of pressure coming from the churches and the community, so Museveni is most likely to sign the bill," he said, but added the gay and lesbian community would be lobbying hard for support over the coming weeks.

"We are going to do a lot of campaigning in the media, in the press, with our allies, human rights organisations. When coming back from Christmas, we shall have a lot of support. We are also working with our legal team," he said.

"We are expecting support from the United States, the UK and from most of the EU countries."

Anti-gay moves by Ugandan lawmakers have been widely condemned, with US President Barack Obama describing the bill before it was passed as "odious" and Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu comparing it to apartheid.

'Christmas gift'

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence, and rights activists have also reported cases of lesbians being subjected to "corrective" rapes.

In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading "Hang Them".

The lawmaker behind the bill, David Bahati, has described the legislation as "a victory for Uganda" and a "vote against evil" -- with some supporters of the text calling it a "Christmas gift" for the country.

"I was really shocked," Mugisha said. "I am not afraid because I have been fighting this battle for many years but I am worried for my colleagues."

AIDS activists say the law will prevent gays from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life saving treatment and support services.

A statement from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community group in Uganda said it viewed the bill as unconstitutional and a major setback in the fight against HIV and AIDS, which effects 7.2 percent of Ugandans.

"The grounds on which we have always contested this bill are that it is blatantly unconstitutional, is against international human rights standards, is redundant for the most part, and would wreak havoc on the fight against HIV/AIDS and other public health priorities in Uganda," it said in a statement.

"Freedom of knowledge, speech, association, assembly, expression will be all curtailed as result," it added. "The law will be misused for blackmail, extortion, political malice, career ruining, and general rivalry."



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