Homosexuals in Uganda could face life in prison should they break anti-gay laws passed by the government. A prominent gay rights activist has called the move "a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda."
Slated in 2009, Uganda's first bill outlawing some homosexual acts initially included the death penalty - although that clause was removed from the version that was passed into law.
Some homosexual acts are outlawed in Uganda, but the bill which cleared parliament on Friday threatens more severe criminal penalties for sexual activity between partners of the same gender.
The bill must be signed by President Yoweri Museveni - a devout evangelical Christian - within 30 days to become law. Lawmakers supporting the bill believed harsher penalties were warranted and has called for a clearer definition 'crimes' required clearer definition.
"This is a victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil," David Bahati, the parliamentarian behind the bill, told AFP. "Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks."
Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha reacted to the passing of the bill with dismay: "This is a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda," he said.
"It will open a new era of fear and persecution. If this law is signed by President Museveni, I'd be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed. We urgently need world leaders to call on President Museveni and demand he stops this bill of hate from becoming law," Mugisha said.
'Aggravated' felony carries life sentence
Included in bill is a new felony called "aggravated homosexuality," which is defined as a homosexual act where one of the partners is infected with HIV, where one of the partners is a minor or disabled or when repeated homosexual acts are made among consenting adults. These cases can carry a life sentence under the bill.
The bill calls for a seven-year jail term for persons who conduct marriage ceremonies for same sex couples, while "promotion" of gay rights is also illegal.
Amnesty International wrote in a press release that, according to Ugandan non-government organizations, the bill was surprisingly tabled on Friday, without prior notice. Despite objections from the floor, the bill was swiftly adopted.
"This bill will institutionalize discrimination, hatred and prejudice in law against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex Ugandans, who are already marginalized," said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty's Deputy Africa Director.
- Reuters, AFP, AP