KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan lawmakers approved a bill prescribing prison sentences of up to 10 years for crimes related to same-sex relationships, responding to popular sentiment but increasing pressure on the East African country’s LGBTQ community.
The bill was passed late Tuesday evening in a packed parliamentary hall, and after a roll call ordered by the Speaker of the House, who had repeatedly warned that it was necessary to identify those who might oppose the bill . It was supported by nearly all of the 389 lawmakers present.
“Congratulations,” said speaker Anita Among. “Whatever we are doing, we are doing for the people of Uganda.”
An earlier version of the bill enacted in 2014 was later overturned by a court on procedural grounds. Human Rights Watch described the legislation as “a more egregious version” of the 2014 law, which sparked widespread international concern and was overturned due to pressure from Uganda’s development partners.
The bill will now go to President Yoweri Museveni, who can veto it or turn it into law. In a recent speech, he suggested supporting the bill, accusing unnamed Western nations of “trying to impose their practices on other people.”
The bill was introduced last month by an opposition lawmaker who said its aim was to punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” related to LGBTQ activities. His bill creates the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, which applies in cases of sexual relations involving HIV-infected people, minors and other categories of vulnerable people. It wasn’t immediately clear what the punishment for that offense was following last-minute amendments at a lengthy plenary session in the capital, Kampala.
The bill also creates the crime of “attempted homosexuality”, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Same-sex activity is already punishable by life in prison under a colonial-era law targeting “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” based in part on a report by dissidents from the parliamentary committee that considered the bill ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The bill is “ill-conceived” and unconstitutional because it “criminalizes individuals rather than conduct,” said lawmaker Fox Odoi, who represents dissidents.
The bill, if enacted into law, “would violate multiple fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association, privacy, equality and non-discrimination, according to Human Rights Watch.
“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people for simply being who they are, as well as further violating the rights to privacy and freedoms of expression and association that are already undermined in Uganda,” says Oryem of the group. Nyeko said in a statement earlier this month. “Ugangan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital.”
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has soared in recent weeks amid allegations of sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious one for boys in which a parent accused a teacher of abusing his son. The authorities are investigating the case.
Uganda’s LGBTQ community has faced pressure from civil authorities in recent years for a tough new law that would punish same-sex activities.
The Ugandan agency that oversees the work of NGOs last year shut down the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the country’s largest LGBTQ organization, accusing it of failing to register legally. But the leader of the group said his organization had been rejected by the business register as undesirable.
The Church of England’s recent decision to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples has also inflamed many, including some who see homosexuality as imported from abroad.
“The Church of England has fallen away from the Anglican faith and they are now false teachers,” Ugandan Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba said in a statement last month that described “an impending crisis.”
Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of 54 African countries.