KAMPALA (Reuters) -Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has signed one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, in defiance of Western condemnations and potential sanctions from aid donors.
Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as in more than 30 African countries, but the new law goes much further.
It imposes capital punishment for some behaviour including transmitting a terminal illness like HIV/AIDS through gay sex, and stipulates a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality.
“The Ugandan president has today legalised state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia,” said Clare Byarugaba, a Ugandan rights activist. “It’s a very dark and sad day for the LGBTIQ community, our allies and all of Uganda.”
She and other activists have vowed a legal challenge to the law, which Museveni was shown signing at his desk with a golden pen in a photo tweeted by Uganda’s presidency.
The 78-year-old leader has called homosexuality a “deviation from normal” and urged lawmakers to resist “imperialist” pressure.
A less restrictive 2014 anti-LGBTQ law was struck down by a domestic court on procedural grounds, after Western governments had initially suspended some aid, imposed visa restrictions and curtailed security cooperation.
Uganda receives billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and could now face another round of sanctions.
The bill’s sponsor Asuman Basalirwa told reporters that parliament speaker Anita Among’s U.S. visa was cancelled after the law was signed. Among and the U.S. embassy in Uganda did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The White House condemned the bill after it was first passed in March, and last month, the U.S. government said it was assessing the implications of the legislation for activities in Uganda under PEPFAR, its flagship HIV/AIDS programme.
In a joint statement on Monday, PEPFAR, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said the law put Uganda’s anti-HIV fight “in grave jeopardy”.
‘DRACONIAN AND DISCRIMINATORY’
Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Open For Business, a coalition of companies that includes Google and Microsoft, said the group was deeply disappointed.
“Our data shows that this law runs counter to the interests of economic progress and prosperity of all people in Uganda,” he said.
The European Union reiterated a condemnation from March while the United Nations human rights body said the law was a recipe for systematic violation of Ugandans’ rights.
“We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law,” it tweeted.
Uganda’s move could encourage lawmakers in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania seeking similar measures.
“With a lot of humility, I thank my colleagues the Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure from bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists in the interest of our country,” speaker Among said in a statement.
Uganda’s LGBTQ community is afraid: many have closed down social media accounts and fled homes for safe houses.
Some are looking to go abroad.
Museveni had sent the original bill back to lawmakers, asking that they tone down some provisions. The amended version stipulated that merely identifying as LGBTQ is not a crime and revised a measure that obliged people to report homosexual activity to only require reporting when a child is involved.
(Reporting by Reuters reporters in East Africa; Additional reporting by Rachel Savage in Johannesburg, Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Aaron Ross and Andrew Cawthorne)
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