Total Pageviews

Friday, December 20, 2013

Online Reaction to Uganda’s Antigay Legislation

Being gay in Uganda could mean life in prison.

That was one of the punishments for “aggravated homosexuality” contained in a law approved by the Ugandan Parliament on Friday, as my colleague Alan Cowell reported.

Reaction to the legislation, which must be approved by the country’s president, was swift online. Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan gay rights activist who has defined the gay-rights fight in his country as “the right to life itself,” shared his thoughts on his Twitter account, @frankmugisha, as well as updates from an account that monitors Uganda’s legislators.

An initial bill had proposed the death penalty in some cases, but it was replaced with a life behind bars. David Bahati, a lawmaker who has promoted the antigay legislation, said existing laws needed to be strengthened to prevent Western homosexuals from promoting it among young Ugandans.

The law’s supporters celebrated. Martin Ssempa, a pastor in Uganda who has posted on his Facebook page that he is fighting the “wrongdoings of the gays,” shared a photograph of himself with Mr. Bahati.

Gay Ugandans have been persecuted and killed, including Uganda’s most outspoken activist, David Kato, in 2011.

On Twitter, passage of the law became a focus of derision. There were also calls to boycotts.

New Vision of Uganda reported that the country’s prime minister had said there would be further consultations on the bill, which Parliament approved after rejecting a maximum term of 14 years in favor of the life term.

Neela Ghoshal, the senior Human Rights Watch researcher who focuses on gender identity, linked to an article that showed concerns the legislation could adversely impact the country’s response to HIV or AIDS.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance said in a statement:

The Ugandan Parliament today passed a bill which would see any person alleged to be homosexual at risk of life imprisonment. Other clauses within the bill mean that the reputation of anyone working with the gay or lesbian population such as medical doctors working on HIV and AIDS and civil society leaders active in the field of sexual and reproductive health could be severely compromised.

The passing of the bill is likely to lead to even more HIV infections in marginalised populations, especially among men who have sex with men and transgender people. They will be prevented from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life saving treatment and support services that are stigma-free. The Alliance calls on the HIV community to mobilise to express their opposition to the bill becoming law.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.