Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill
Jenni Hulse: Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill is a serious threat to freedom of expression
08 Dec 09

This is a guest post by Jenni Hulse

Last week, prominent Ugandan church leader Canon Gideon Byamugisha joined international condemnation of the country’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill, saying it will be nothing short of state-sponsored “genocide”. He added that the bill would “institutionalise violence and death towards a minority group”.

Byamugisha’s remarks are the latest in a global backlash against the bill. On Thursday a Ugandan news website reported that Sweden will cut aid to Uganda if the bill is passed. Canada has also condemned the bill and Gordon Brown is reported to have discussed the matter directly with the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni at the recent commonwealth summit.

The bill, proposed on 14 October by David Bahati, MP for Ndorwa County, seeks to introduce the death penalty for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” and life imprisonment for committing any “homosexual act”. Provisions in the bill could also lead to the imprisonment of anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of everyone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Apart from the obvious human rights implications — criminalizing the personal and social behaviour of the LGBT community in Uganda, estimated to number 500,000 — legal experts have said it poses a serious threat to the right to free speech, association and assembly.

A new, wide-ranging provision would forbid the “promotion of homosexuality”, including publishing information or providing funds or premises for activities, or other resources. Conviction could result in up to seven years in prison.

“Promotion” is expected to extend to any form of public discussion about homosexuality, and activists have raised concerns that this will hinder the country’s fight against HIV/Aids among the gay community. Any media deemed to be publicizing homosexuality will automatically be censored and publishers and broadcasters will face prosecution. Free communication will be compromised with one clause criminalising the use of “electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality”.

Bahati has defended the bill, insisting publicly that homosexuality is not a human right and that the bill only seeks to defend the “traditional heterosexual family.” However, if introduced, it will put the freedom of expression of all Ugandans at risk. By further stigmatising an already marginalised group and penalising those who support the rights of the gay community, the bill will fuel a witch-hunt mindset that will divide and weaken civil society.