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Uganda lawmakers remove death penalty clause from anti-gay bill

Proponents of the anti-homosexuality bill plan to push ahead with it despite international criticism. It may be debated in a special session Friday.

May 12, 2011|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
  • David Bahati, Ugandan Member of Parliament and the proposer of the controversial anti gay bill.
David Bahati, Ugandan Member of Parliament and the proposer of the controversial… (Ronald Kabuubi / Associated…)

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — After intense international criticism, proponents of an anti-gay bill before Uganda's parliament have removed a punitive clause that called for hanging people who have consensual homosexual sex.

However, they were expected to push ahead with the measure, which criminalizes the promotion of homosexuality.

The bill was to be debated Wednesday, the last day of the current parliament, but was dropped from the agenda. There were reports it might be debated Friday in an special session.

If not, the bill can be reintroduced when the new parliament convenes.

Anti-gay activists have promoted the measure aggressively since it was introduced in 2009, accusing gays of recruiting children. Gay activists say anti-homosexual sentiment has sharpened, leading to beatings of gays and forcing many to hide their sexual orientation.

In January, gay activist David Kato was slain after a Ugandan newspaper, Rolling Stone, published names and photographs of gays under the headline "Hang them!"

The maneuvering over the timing of the parliamentary vote comes amid increasing criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni over rights abuses after recent protests over fuel and food prices were violently crushed by police, killing at least nine people. Opposition leaders have been repeatedly harassed and arrested.

Museveni, once seen in the West as a model democrat, is due to be sworn in Thursday for another five-year term. He has ruled since 1986.

Homosexuality is abhorred in many parts of Africa, regarded as un-African, against Christian values and a Western perversion.

The bill was condemned in its original form as "odious" by President Obama, and has been attacked by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. More than 1.4 million people have signed an online petition opposing the bill.

"It is deeply alarming that the Ugandan parliament is again considering this appalling bill, which flies in the face of human decency and violates international human rights law," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's deputy director for Africa.

Although the bill's author, lawmaker David Bahati, announced that the death penalty had been removed from the bill, no new version has been publicly released. One of the country's most prominent anti-gay campaigners, Pastor Martin Ssempa, told a parliamentary committee this week that he did not support the death penalty for homosexuality but urged legislators to go ahead with other aspects of the law.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the law in a joint statement Tuesday, saying the provision banning the promotion of homosexuality could jeopardize gay rights advocates and organizations working on behalf of gay people.

Anyone who counseled or abetted people in committing homosexual acts — including landlords who rented houses or rooms to gay people — would face seven years in jail.

The bill makes it compulsory for people to report acts of homosexuality within 24 hours of becoming aware of them and penalizes those who fail to do so.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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