Uganda denies plans to impose death penalty for gay sex

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Uganda will not impose the death penalty for gay sex, a presidential spokesman said on Monday, after major aid donors said they were monitoring a plan by the African nation to reintroduce a bill colloquially known as “Kill the Gays”.

Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo last Thursday said the government planned to re-introduce an anti-homosexuality bill in parliament within weeks to curb the spread of homosexuality in the east African nation.

Lokodo’s statement was widely reported across the world and international donors such as the European Union, World Bank, the United States and the Global Fund said they were monitoring the situation closely and stood by the rights of LGBT+ people.

A spokesperson for President Yoweri Museveni on Monday said the government has no plans to introduce the legislation that would impose the death penalty for gay sex.

“There are no plans by the government to introduce a law like that,” Don Wanyama, President Museveni’s senior press secretary told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We have the penal code that already handles issues of unnatural sexual behaviour so there is no law coming up.”

Lokodo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation and local press last week that the bill was about to be tabled in the largely conservative Christian country where gay sex is currently punishable with life imprisonment under British colonial law.

This prompted major aid donors on Friday to voice concerns, and a government spokesman took to Twitter on Saturday to deny any such plan.

It was not possible to confirm any link between the donors’ concerns and the government spokesman’s statement on Saturday.

VIOLENCE AND PREJUDICE

When asked why Lokodo had made the statement, Wanyama said: “Ask him. I don’t know where he got this idea from. There is no plan by government to introduce a law of that nature.”

Lokodo said the bill – that was nullified five years ago on a technicality – was being resurrected and would be voted on by the end of the year.

“Our current penal law is limited. It only criminalises the act,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We want it made clear that anyone who is even involved in promotion and recruitment has to be criminalised. Those that do grave acts will be given the death sentence.”

Lokodo did not immediately respond to calls and messages from the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.

Earlier this year, Brunei in Southeast Asia sparked international outcry over plans to impose the death penalty for gay sex, backtracking only after intense criticism.

African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality with same-sex relationships considered taboo and gay sex deemed a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.

Uganda is seen as one of the most difficult countries in Africa to be in a sexual minority with members of the LGBT community facing prejudice in getting jobs, renting housing or seeking medical care or education.

LGBT+ rights groups report that three gay men and one transgender woman had been killed in homophobic attacks in Uganda this year – the latest on Oct. 4 when a gay man was bludgeoned to death.

Rejected by their families and fearful for their lives, hundreds of LGBT+ Ugandans have fled over the last five years to seek refuge to countries such as neighbouring Kenya.

Human rights groups said Lokodo’s comments would inflame homophobic attitudes further.

“This is an example of how Uganda’s politicians are stoking dangerous intolerance and bias against LGBTI people,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, in a statement.