Uganda anti-gay bill 'not backed by government'

Image caption,
David Bahati says homosexuality has been imported from the West

Uganda's government has defended its right to debate an anti-gay bill but says the draft legislation does not have official backing.

MP David Bahati this week retabled his bill after it was shelved following an international outcry.

The bill calls for life in prison for homosexual offences but Mr Bahati says the death penalty will be dropped.

The government urged foreign leaders to realise that cultural attitudes in Africa were "very different".

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda - a largely conservative society, where many condemn homosexuality.

The proposed legislation was first introduced in 2009 but never debated.

The original bill said those found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality" - defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a "serial offender" - would face the death penalty.

It was condemned by Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama who described it as "odious".

Both the US and UK have recently urged developing countries to respect gay rights or risk losing aid.

'Mass international criticism'

"Contrary to reports, the bill before parliament even if it were to pass, would not sanction the death penalty for homosexual behaviour in Uganda," a government statement released by the Uganda Media Centre (UMC) said.

Mr Bahati told the BBC that for procedural reasons, the original text had been resubmitted but that it had been agreed that the section calling for the death penalty would be removed when it was discussed by a committee of MPs.

The UMC said the bill proposed by Mr Bahati, who leads the ruling party's caucus in parliament, did not enjoy the support of the prime minister or cabinet.

"The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the government's support for this bill," the statement said.

It questioned why Uganda was the subject of "mass international criticism" when the international community remained "mute in the face of far graver and far more draconian legislation relating to homosexuality in other countries", naming Saudi Arabia.

"Unlike many other countries, no-one in Uganda has ever been charged with the criminal offence of homosexuality," it said.

"Moreover the main provisions of this bill were designed to stem the issue of defilement and rape which in the minds of Ugandans is a more pressing and urgent matter that needs to be addressed."

Pepe Julian Onziema, an openly gay Ugandan from the campaign group Sexual Minorities Uganda, said the bill, even without the death penalty clause, was still a cause for concern and was inflaming homophobic attitudes.

The draft legislation proposes that anyone failing to report to the authorities a person they knew to be homosexual would also be liable to prosecution.

Since the bill was retabled on Tuesday there have already been reports of increased harassment against homosexuals, Ms Onziema told the BBC's World Today programme.

"Being in jail in Uganda is as good as the death penalty," she said.

"What I'm worried about most is not even the police coming to arrest me, it's my neighbour attacking me - it's the motorbike cyclist [taxi] refusing to take me to a destination. I'll be killed before I reached my destination."

In January 2011, gay rights activist David Kato was killed in what some said was a hate crime - the police said it was linked to a robbery.

At his funeral, the priest condemned gay people.

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