Uganda gays under threat

2010-10-30 00:00

KAMPALA — A young man, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, looks first over his left shoulder and then over his right, back over his left, and once more over the right before he is sure nobody is listening.

He then looks down at his feet and the small dance floor of Kampala’s only gay bar, T-Cozy, and starts to speak slowly — and quietly.

There is good reason to be scared. This month a new Ugandan newspaper calling itself Rolling Stone ran a cover story with the headline, “100 pictures of Uganda’s top homos leak”.

A smaller banner headline had only two words: “Hang them.”

The paper printed photographs of 11 Ugandan men and women that it said were gay, but says it now intends to serialise the story — printing profiles of 10 to 15 gay people a week until it has outed the full 100.

Of the 11 featured, at least four say they have been attacked.

Giles Muhame, editor of the paper with a circulation of just 2 000, is unrepentant and says he is protecting the moral fabric of the east African nation.

“We called the paper RollingStone because it is a stone that is rolling and bringing out the evil in society,” says the 22-year-old, laughing. “If people are promoting homosexuality then the stone is going to knock on their door and smoke them out.”

Raymond Louw, media freedom committee deputy chairperson of the South African National Editors’ Forum, said the story “represents hate speech and is a form of antagonism and hatred which is unacceptable. Such a tasteless form of expression is uncalled for and advocates unwanted violence and hatred”.

A representative of the South African non-profit media organisation, Behind the Mask, Thuli Madi, said: “It [shows] an utter disregard of the basic human rights, such as the rights to privacy and dignity.”

The publication of Rolling Stone came almost exactly one year after an anti-gay bill was tabled in the Ugandan parliament, proposing the death penalty for homosexuals.

The proposal caused international uproar. United States president Barack Obama denounced the proposed legislation as “odious” and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to express her strong concerns.

Rights groups suspect the law may be passed after elections in February, which Museveni is expected to win. “It has to be debated under our law,” says Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo. “I am confident it will be passed, but with amendments, for example on the issue of death penalty. I don’t believe that is the way to go.”

Buturo says a provision for jail sentences may be included in the legislation, but that counselling would also be available should gay people want to repent.

But David Bahati, the member of parliament who originally proposed the bill, says he is very confident the provision for the death penalty will remain.

Says Madi, “The proposed bill is both a step back to strides made throughout the world in promoting sexual diversity and also the protection of human rights. Government should be channelling both time and funds on other pressing matters in the country rather than on consenting adults and their sexual activities.”

Many African nations see homo­sexuality as a Western import. It is illegal in 37 countries on the continent and few Africans are openly gay, fearing harassment, attacks and loss of jobs.

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