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Uganda adopts draconian anti-gay bill

Photo taken on February 14, 2010 shows Ugandans taking part in an anti-gay demonstration at Jinja, Kampala
Photo taken on February 14, 2010 shows Ugandans taking part in an anti-gay demonstration at Jinja, Kampala

Uganda's parliament on Friday adopted an anti-homosexuality bill that will see repeat offenders jailed for life, with lawmakers hailing it as a victory against "evil" for the deeply religious nation.

Deputies voted overwhelmingly in favour of the text, which has been widely condemned by rights activists and Western leaders -- with US President Barack Obama describing it as "odious".

The lawmaker behind the bill, David Bahati, said a death penalty clause was dropped from the final version of the bill, which must now go to President Yoweri Museveni for approval.

"This is a victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil," Bahati told AFP.

"Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks," he said.

First proposed in 2009, the bill had been shelved following international condemnation, but parliamentary spokeswoman Hellen Kaweesa said the changes meant that it had secured "majority support" among MPs.

Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni pictured attending the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 26, 2013
Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni pictured attending the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 26, 2013

The initially proposed bill would have introduced the death sentence for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for a second time, as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV.

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence. Rights activists have also reported cases of lesbians being subjected to "corrective" rapes.

In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on the front page along with a yellow banner reading "Hang Them".

While homosexuality was already illegal, the new bill stiffens penalties and also criminalises the public promotion of homosexuality -- including discussions by rights groups.

The bill sparked a strong reaction from activists.

"I am officially illegal," Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha said after the vote.

Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch said that President Yoweri Museveni "should not sign the abhorrent anti-homosexuality law just passed".

The vote also comes a day after parliament passed an anti-pornography law that bans anything that "shows sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks", according to the Monitor newspaper.

People attend the funeral of murdered activist David Kato at his parental home close to the town of Mataba on January 28, 2011
People attend the funeral of murdered activist David Kato at his parental home close to the town of Mataba on January 28, 2011

It also outlaws "any erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals".

In 2008, former ethics and integrity minister James Nsaba Buturo tried to pass similar legislation claiming a woman wearing provocative clothing risked causing traffic accidents by distracting drivers.

President Museveni called an uproar in 2012 when he told female school students to "keep a padlock on your private parts until the time comes to open them when you have a husband".

In addition to outlawing "provocative" clothing, the anti-pornography bill will result in scantily dressed performers being banned from Ugandan television. It will also closely monitor what individuals watch on the Internet.

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