By Rodney Muhumuza
ENTEBBE, UGANDA: Uganda’s president on Monday signed an anti-gay bill that punishes gay sex with up to life in prison, a measure likely to send Uganda’s beleaguered gay community further underground as the police try to implement it amid fevered anti-gay sentiment across the country.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the bill, which goes into effect immediately, was needed because the West is promoting homosexuality in Africa.
Museveni may have defied Western pressure to shelve the bill, four years and many versions after it was introduced, but his move — likely to galvanize support ahead of presidential elections — pleased many Ugandans who repeatedly urged him to sign the legislation.
Nigeria’s president similarly signed an anti-gay bill into law just over a month ago, sparking increased violence against gays who already were persecuted in mob attacks. Some watchdog groups warn a similar backlash of violence may occur in Uganda.
“Experience from other jurisdictions with similarly draconian laws, such as Nigeria or Russia, indicates that their implementation is often followed by a surge in violence against individuals thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said in a statement Monday.
The Ugandan law calls for first-time offenders to be sentenced to 14 years in jail. It sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated gay sex between consenting adults and acts involving a minor, a disabled person or where one partner is infected with HIV.
Uganda’s new anti-gay law has been condemned around the world.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney called the law “abhorrent,” urged its repeal and said the White House is reviewing its relationship with Uganda.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that the law would institutionalize discrimination and could encourage harassment and violence against gays.
At least six people have already been arrested over alleged homosexual offenses and more than a dozen have fled Uganda since lawmakers passed the bill in December, according to a prominent Ugandan gay activist, Pepe Julian Onziema.