Uganda’s parliament was due to vote Tuesday on anti-gay legislation which proposes tough new penalties for same-sex relations in a country where homosexuality is already illegal.
Under the proposed law, anyone in the conservative East African nation who engages in same-sex activity or who identifies publicly as LGBTQ could face up to 10 years in prison.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is ready and will be tabled (put) before parliament for a vote this afternoon,” said Robina Rwakoojo, chair of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, which has been studying the legislation.
“We have heard from the supporters of the bill and those against it and we have made our recommendations for consideration by the plenary,” Rwakoojo told AFP.
Discussions about the bill in parliament have frequently been laced with homophobic rhetoric, with President Yoweri Museveni last week referring to gay people as “these deviants.”
“Homosexuals are deviations from normal. Why? Is it by nature or nurture? We need to answer these questions,” the 78-year-old said.
“We need a medical opinion on that. We shall discuss it thoroughly.”
– ‘Heighten hate speech’ –
But legislator Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, who belongs to Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party, told AFP he opposed the bill and was prepared to speak out against it in parliament.
“I am ready to present the minority report before parliament when we convene today because it is my civic duty to promote a just society”.
Human rights lawyer Adrian Jjuuko told AFP he hoped parliament would “not pass this law because it will heighten hate speech against the minorities”.
In recent months, conspiracy theories accusing shadowy international forces of promoting homosexuality have gained traction on social media in Uganda.
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a leading gay rights organisation whose operations were suspended by the authorities last year, told AFP earlier this month he had already been inundated with calls from LGBTQ people over the new bill.
“Community members are living in fear,” he said.
Last week, police said they had arrested six men for “practising homosexuality” in the southern lakeside town of Jinja.
A further six men — all in their 20s — were arrested on the same charge on Sunday, according to police, who say they were “investigating several criminal sexual networks” in the town.
Uganda is notorious for intolerance of homosexuality — which is criminalised under colonial-era laws — and strict Christian views on sexuality in general.
But since independence from Britain in 1962 there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.
In 2014, Ugandan lawmakers passed a bill that called for life in prison for people caught having gay sex.
The legislation sparked international condemnation, with some Western nations freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid in response, before a court later struck down the law on a technicality.