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Uganda passes draconian anti-gay bill despite international condemnation

KAMPALA, Uganda – Parliament today passed a draconian anti-gay bill that has been vigorously opposed by the international community.

The so-called “Kill The Gays” bill first proposed in 2009 has been tempered slightly, with the death sentence removed from the measure that was approved.

Pressure now falls on President Yoweri Museveni, who has the authority to squelch the Anti-Homosexuality Bill or sign it into law.

Parliament passed the bill without giving public notice, and activists today are questioning whether that was legal or whether a quorum was achieved.

The bill includes a life sentence for those convicted more than once of having sex with the same gender and prison time for people who do not report gay people to authorities. Those convicted of promoting homosexuality face five to seven years in prison, similar to the law passed earlier this year in Russia that is broadly condemned.

“Representatives of the Ugandan government have launched a shameful sneak attack on their own people. If this bill becomes law, countless LGBT Ugandans will be condemned to violence or prison,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said. “The United States government has a moral obligation to use every tool at its disposal to put a stop to this legislation.”

Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, the 1.9 million member movement fighting for love and equality, said Uganda's president must take a stand for human rights.

“President Museveni must immediately come out forcefully and publicly to reject this law and call for calm. This vote must not be seen as a free pass for a nation-wide anti-gay witch hunt in Uganda," he said.

"Museveni must keep his promise to uphold Uganda's Constitution, and the human rights embodied within it, and not sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Life imprisonment is a sentence that should be reserved for only the worst crimes, not for living openly and loving who you choose," Banks said.

More than half a million people signed All Out’s petition opposing the so-called Bahati Bill, named after homophobic MP David Bahati.

"All Out members from all over the world have stood with Ugandans before - and we will do everything we can to keep this bill from being signed into law,” Banks said.

Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and one of the U.K.’s leading activists for global equality, said the bill violates Uganda’s constitution.

“The new anti-gay law violates Article 21 of the Ugandan constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights - both of which guarantee equal treatment and non-discrimination to all people,” he said.

“It is part of a broader attack on civil society and is symptomatic of Uganda’s drift to Mugabe-style authoritarianism. This wider repression includes a clamp down on protests, strikes, the media and opposition activists."

Londoners have been very vocal in protesting the bill since it was first introduced.

“The Bill extends the existing penalty of life imprisonment for same-sex intercourse to all other same-sex behaviour, including the mere touching of another person with the intent to have homosexual relations,” Tatchell said.

“Life imprisonment is also the penalty for contracting a same-sex marriage.

"Promoting homosexuality and aiding and abetting others to commit homosexual acts will be punishable by five to seven years jail. These new crimes are likely to include membership and funding of LGBT organisations, advocacy of LGBT human rights, supportive counselling of LGBT persons and the provision of condoms or safer sex advice to LGBT people,” he said.

“A person in authority – gay or heterosexual - who fails to report violators to the police within 24 hours will be sentenced to three years behind bars.

"Astonishingly, the new legislation has an extra-territorial jurisdiction. It will also apply to Ugandan citizens or foreign residents of Uganda who commit these 'crimes' while abroad, in countries where such behaviour is not a criminal offence. Violators overseas will be subjected to extradition, trial and punishment in Uganda, Tatchell said.

“This bill is in some respects even more draconian than the extreme homophobic laws of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran,” he said.

The bill has been condemned by President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

HRC's Griffin pointed out that a number of Religious Right extremists, including Scott Lively, have spent years exporting fear and homophobia to places like Uganda and Russia. Ugandan activists have sued Lively for "committing crimes against humanity."

“Perhaps most disgusting is the fact that American extremists have worked tirelessly in the name of Christianity to see this bill passed,” Griffin said. “True people of faith know that calling for the imprisonment of an entire community is not in line with Christian values. American Christian faith leaders with ties to Uganda must speak out and call on their colleagues in Uganda to oppose this bill from becoming law.”

Today's news immediately sent a chill over Uganda’s LGBT leaders.

Frank Mugisha, perhaps the most visible activist in Uganda, wrote on Facebook:

“I am officially illegal.”