LAGOS, Nigeria — Two men in Uganda are the first to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” which carries the death penalty under a new anti-gay law passed in May. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but the new law has been condemned as one of the most extreme laws in the world.
In the most recent and widely reported case, a 20-year-old man was arrested on August 18 and charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as same-sex conduct with an HIV-positive person, child, elderly or disabled person. . person. The accused is accused of having a relationship with a 41-year-old disabled man, according to the spokesman for Uganda’s Director of Prosecutions. The defendant’s lawyer said it could be six months before the man appears in court again.
This case highlights the threats to LGBTQ+ people in Uganda since President Yoweri Museveni signed the new law after it was passed almost unanimously by Uganda’s parliament.
Human rights advocates in the East African country say the harsh legislation fosters a ‘witch hunt’ against sexual minorities, those perceived as such and anyone offering them support. The law has already driven many members of the LGBTQ+ community into hiding.
In a previous case, a 43-year-old man was arrested in the eastern Ugandan town of Jinja on July 18. Jacqueline Okui, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, told NPR the man was charged with allegedly committing “a criminal act.” sexual act with a 12-year-old child of the same sex.
Prosecutors decided the man would stand trial for “aggravated homosexuality” rather than under Uganda’s desecration laws, known as rape laws in some countries. Legal experts believe it is likely that prosecutors did so in order to secure the harshest punishment.
Uganda’s penal code from British colonial times already punished homosexual acts, and the law had already been updated by Ugandan lawmakers to provide for penalties of up to life in prison.
But the new law goes much further, introducing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizing the “promotion of homosexuality”, punishable by 20 years in prison, potentially targeting human rights groups and advocates who support LGBTQ+ people.
The law makes it difficult for Ugandan journalists to freely cover such cases, fearing that their reporting will be seen by authorities as promoting homosexuality.
After the new law came into effect, Human Rights Watch criticized it, saying it “violates several basic rights guaranteed by Uganda’s constitution and breaks the government’s commitments as a signatory to a number of international agreements on human rights”.
The World Bank also condemned the law and blocked new loans to the country. Washington has imposed visa restrictions on some government officials and is reviewing US aid to Uganda.
Yet Museveni fought back and fiercely defended the law. He condemned the World Bank as a hypocrite, saying other countries with anti-gay laws receive its funding. He swore to resist outside pressure.