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Uganda lawmakers launch campaign to revive anti-gay law

Uganda lawmakers launch campaign to revive anti-gay law
LGBT rights activists protest Uganda's anti-gay law in London in January after lawmakers passed the measure without a quorum.
LGBT rights activists protest Uganda’s anti-gay law in London in January after lawmakers passed the measure without a quorum. Peter Tatchell Foundation

KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan parliamentarians are launching a campaign to revive a recently invalidated anti-gay measure and hope to have it passed within weeks, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

About 150 lawmakers have promised to vote in support of the bill when parliament emerges from a recess later this month, said parliamentarian Latif Ssebaggala, who is collecting signatures from lawmakers who support the anti-gay measure.

Ssebaggala said he was treating the anti-gay measure as a “national priority” after a Ugandan court last week declared it illegal because it was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum.

The Constitutional Court didn’t rule on the substance of the law, so lawmakers are now able to reintroduce the same legislation, which allows for jail terms of up to life for homosexual offenses. Although the law had wide support among Ugandans, activists and watchdog group called the measure draconian and said it was unnecessary in a country where homosexuality had long been banned.

The court’s decision sparked anger among some Ugandans who believed it might have been motivated by Western sanctions against Uganda’s government over the anti-gay measure enacted in February.

After Friday’s court ruling, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declined to comment on the decision, telling reporters at a news conference that he would discuss the matter with his party’s caucus. Many Ugandans believe he quietly backed the court’s decision amid mounting pressure from the East African country’s development partners.

The legal petition against the anti-gay law, which was originally scheduled to be heard by judges in September, was wrapped up in a matter of days last week, leading some to question the urgency with which the judges acted. Such cases typically take years before a decision is returned.

Medard Bitekyerezo, a Ugandan lawmaker who is a strong supporter of the anti-gay legislation, said this time there will be no questions over a quorum since “there will be a show of hands in parliament so that we know who is a homosexual and who is not” among lawmakers.

“We have got the right to bring it back in parliament,” he said, referring to the anti-gay measure. “I can tell you that it is going to be bloody in parliament.”

Uganda depends on donor support to implement about 20 percent of its budget. A substantial amount of that funding goes toward health services, an area in which the country needs Western money and expertise to stem the spread of preventable diseases.

The World Bank and at least three European countries withheld aid to Uganda’s government after the bill was enacted in February. The U.S. also halted or redirected funding from Ugandan institutions accused of rights violations, and imposed visa bans on unnamed Ugandan officials.

“It’s all very suspicious in terms of lack of sovereignty and independence,” said the prominent Christian cleric Martin Ssempa, referring to the court’s decision. “Barack Obama and others have exerted unprecedented political pressure on Uganda.”

Museveni is in Washington this week, attending the Africa summit.

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