After writing a sprawling eight-page letter last December indicating that he opposed his country’s controversial tough anti-gay bill, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently signed the measure into law.
Although homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, the newly signed bill imposes harsher punishments, up to 14 years for a first offense and life sentences for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” It also targets Uganda’s LGBT activists, making “promotion of homosexuality” a crime, and for the first time, the law punishes lesbians in Uganda who were previously left out of the legislation.
President Obama warned Uganda that instituting such a law would damage ties between the two countries (the U.S. provides $400 million in aid to the African nation each year), but in a defiant speech during the signing ceremony at the State House in Entebbe, President Museveni told the crowd:
“No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature. That’s why I have agreed to sign the bill.
“Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the west not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose. If the west does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here.”
“We see how you do things, the families, how they’re organized,” he told CNN. “All the things, we see them, we keep quiet,” he said. “It’s not our country, maybe you like it. So there’s now an attempt at social imperialism — to impose social values of one group on our society.”
According to the BBC, the law has been softened from its initial state, which previously made it illegal to not report someone who suspected of being gay. However, this clause has reportedly been removed.
The controversial law still includes strict punishments for being gay, including:
- Life imprisonment for gay sex, including oral sex
- Life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”, including sex with a minor or while HIV-positive
- Life imprisonment for living in a same-sex marriage
- Seven years for “attempting to commit homosexuality”
- Between five and seven years in jail or a $40,700 (£24,500) fine or both for the promotion of homosexuality
- Businesses or non-governmental organisations found guilty of the promotion of homosexuality would have their certificates of registration cancelled and directors could face seven years in jail
The bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, defended the law, saying, “Homosexuality is just bad behaviour that should not be allowed in our society” Bahati also argued that homosexuality can be “unlearned.”
President Museveni signed the bill into law to rousing applause, but the BBC’s Catherine Byaruhanga said this was an uncharacteristically public move.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the spectacle was meant “to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.”
LGBT activists and citizens in Uganda are rightly worried about the law. One anonymous activist told the BBC, “I didn’t even go to work today [Monday]. I’m locked up in the house. And I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”