Ugandan activists call for withdrawal of anti-gay bill

Hundreds of religious leaders and Aids activists petitioned the parliament of Uganda on Monday for the withdrawal of a proposed anti-homosexuality bill. The group, led by a self-declared HIV-positive Anglican priest, called on legislators to reject the bill that would criminalise homosexuality, saying it is in violation of the freedoms set out in Uganda's constitution.


Report: Correspondent Patricia Okoed in Kampala

Around 450 activists presented parliament speaker Edward Ssekandi with a petition.

"The bill is not about protecting Ugandan culture and traditions as it purports. On the contrary it is violating our cultures, traditions and religious values that teach against intolerance, injustice, hatred and violence," said the leader of the movement, Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha.

Campaigners say that the proposed law violates the Ugandan constitution, which supposedly guarantees freedom from discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or beliefs.

It could even criminalise those such as pastors or aid workers who work with HIV-positive homosexuals, Byamugisha claims.

"This is a bill that requires various members of the community, family members, service providers and spiritual mentors to spy on one another," he said. "This would obstruct religious leaders, doctors, counsellors and other service providers in their essential roles, and would facilitate political and religious witch hunts and false accusations against real and perceived enemies."

But other Christian groups in Uganda, for instance the fast-growing Pentecostal church, accuse Byamugisha of misleading his flock according to his own political agenda, according to RFI's correspondent in Kampala, Patricia Okeod.

The parliament speaker accepted the petition, but said that the bill could not be blocked and would have to undergo due process.

This process will include a public consultation, Ssekandi added, assuring that "a lot of time" will be devoted to collecting Ugandans' views.

The bill would introduce the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", in cases of rape of a minor by a person of the same sex, or where one partner carries the HIV virus.

It has attracted widespread international condemnation, with United States President Barack Obama describing the bill as "odious". A global petition against the bill by rights group Avaaz currently has more than 450,000 signatures.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app