Uganda judges debate bid to overturn anti-gay law

2014-07-31 14:00
Ugandan Human Rights and Gay activists are seen inside the Constitutional Court in Kampala during proceedings. (Isaac Kasamani, AFP)

Ugandan Human Rights and Gay activists are seen inside the Constitutional Court in Kampala during proceedings. (Isaac Kasamani, AFP)

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Kampala - Ugandan state lawyers sought on Thursday to dismiss a petition by activists at the constitutional court seeking to overturn tough anti-gay laws that have been condemned by rights groups as draconian.

Signed by Uganda's veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, the law calls for homosexuals to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

But the activists argue that the law was passed in parliament without the necessary quorum of lawmakers, and said they were confident in their case.

"We are saying there is no evidence about the quorum", state attorney Patricia Mutesa told the court in the capital Kampala, the second day of the hearing.

The 10 petitioners, including two Ugandan rights organisations also claim that the law violates the constitutional right to privacy and dignity, as well as the right to be free from discrimination, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Judges adjourned the hearings until Friday, when they are expected to rule on the quorum issue.

But prominent gay-rights activist Frank Mugisha, one of the petitioners, said he was optimistic that judges would rule in favour of scrapping the law.

"I think that we could have a very good judgement tomorrow, and if we get that judgement then it's over, and we just have to celebrate", said Mugisha, who heads the Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) group.

Outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was also in court, has already warned he feared the "judicial abortion of our bill" due to international pressure.

"This case is moving at lightning speed", he said on Thursday, claiming the petition was being pushed to polish Uganda's international reputation before Museveni travels to Washington next week to meet President Barack Obama at a landmark US-Africa summit.

"There are efforts to drum up a legal precedent to try to show [Washington] that, 'hey, we are not that bad on homosexuality'", Ssempa claimed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the Ugandan law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Read more on:    yoweri museveni  |  uganda  |  gay rights  |  east africa

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