Death Penalty Provision Remains in Ugandaâs Anti-Gay Legislation

MP David Bahati, a member of the ruling National Resistance Movement, introduced the legislation.

Uganda’s parliament is expected to reconvene today after being suspended much of last week after “several MPs started heckling and shouting,” during a controversial vote on petroleum leases, reports KFM 93.3 Radio.  Members of the East African nation’s embattled lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are hopeful that parliament will be consumed by the oil debate—and the current session will end before legislators advance the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.”  

“We are terrified the bill will pass,” Ugandan television journalist Craig Kadoda told EBONY.com from Kampala.

Kadoda is an openly gay Ugandan and a professional. That’s no small feat in a nation where same-sex relations are harshly penalized, gays and lesbians are often shunned by family, evicted from their homes and targeted for violence or even death. Recent weeks have seen a revival  of the  extreme anti-gay legislation originally proposed in 2009, which seeks the death penalty for the new offense of “aggravated homosexuality”—anyone caught engaging in same-sex acts for a second time—as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or is HIV positive. 

HIV/AIDS advocates are concerned that passage of the bill would lead to even more HIV infections … among men who have sex with men.” The nation’s adult HIV prevalence rate is 6.5 percent, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to AVERT and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The draconian bill was originally proposed by MP David Bahati, a member of the ruling National Resistance Movement. Bahati now claims the death penalty provision has been removed. “There is no death penalty,"Bahati told the Associated Press on Friday, which added that “the most recent version of the bill hasn't been publicly released.”

Ugandan LGBT activists and international human rights advocates dispute Bahati’s claim.

“There has not been any official confirmation the death penalty has been removed,” Frank Mugisha told EBONY.com from Kampala. Mugisha is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the sole LGBT rights organization in the nation. He was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in November 2011—the first time an LGBT rights activist has been honored by the prestigious award.

“We have not seen any official document saying the death penalty has been removed,” added Mugisha. “As far as I know, this is the same bill that was first introduced in 2009.”

"No one has actually seen the latest version of the bill to confirm Bahati's claim,” said Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, which has conducted an online organizing campaign to bring awareness to the “Kill the Gays Bill.” So far, almost a quarter-million people have signed their petition. “Until we see the bill, and it has moved out of a committee that actually has the power to make substantive changes, we must assume the worst."

Ugandan gays are hopeful that their nation will not become the fifth on the continent to condemn same-sex behavior to death.

Another person disputing Bahati’s claim is Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway, who has reported extensively on the Ugandan legislation. The death penalty can only be removed “when the full Parliament decides to vote on the Legal and Parliamentary Committee’s recommendation to remove [it],” wrote Burroway.

The bill would force teachers, employers, landlords—even parents—to inform authorities of “suspected homosexuals” or suffer harsh fines and prison sentences. “Ugandan LGBTs are worried that if this bill passes they could to prison,” Mugisha told EBONY.com. “But it also will increase harassment and intimidation, as well as extortion from law enforcers.”

Craig Kadoda agrees. “People here treat gays like we have some strange disease that makes us unfit to exist in society,” the Ugandan journalist told EBONY.com. “Our lives are at stake. Many of us have good jobs and will lose them. Other lives will be lost to [violence] or even suicide.”

Same-sex acts are illegal in at least 38 of 54 African states. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. Ugandan gays are hopeful that their nation will not become the fifth on the continent to condemn same-sex behavior to death. 

“Listening to the debate is torture,” Kadoda told EBONY.com. “It's like overhearing someone discussing to kill you and you are just waiting for the day. It's insane.”

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News, NBC and FOX, and his writing has appeared in EBONY, The Advocate, OUT, The Los Angeles Times and many others. Read his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom