Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni yesterday signed into law a controversial bill that will see homosexuals jailed for life, defying international pressure and criticism.
“The president has just signed the anti-homosexuality bill,” presidential spokeswoman Sarah Kagingo said, calling it a “landmark” law.
Museveni’s signing comes despite fierce criticism outside Uganda, with US President Barack Obama saying the law was a “step backward” that would complicate ties with Kampala and that he was “deeply disappointed” in the move.
Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told reporters that Museveni wanted to enact the bill “with the full witness of the international media to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.”
South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu on Sunday said that the law recalled sinister attempts by the Nazi and apartheid regimes to “legislate against love.”
The anti-gay bill cruised through parliament in December last year after its architects agreed to drop a death penalty clause, although it still says that repeat homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays.
Museveni, a key African ally of the US and the EU, has already been under fire from key Western donors over alleged rampant corruption, and had been under pressure from diplomats and rights groups to block the legislation.
“The president cannot be pushed by the international lobby groups ... he has made it clear whatever he does will be in the interests of Uganda and not foreign interests,” presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi told reporters. “Uganda is a sovereign state and the decisions taken must be respected.”
The lawmaker behind the bill, David Bahati, praised the decision to sign it.
“This is the moment the world has been waiting for,” he told reporters. “We thank our president for taking such a bold move despite pressure from a section of foreign organizations.”
Homosexuality is taboo in almost all African countries and illegal in 37, including Uganda.
Gay and lesbian organizations in Africa fear the ripple effect from the anti-gay bill could spread beyond Uganda to other parts of Africa.
“It’s a gloomy day not just for the gay community in Uganda, but for all Ugandans who care about human rights because this law will affect everybody,” said Julian Peppe Onziema, spokesman for the country’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex community.
Harassment of people suspected of being gay has increased since parliament passed the bill, Onziema said.
Museveni’s decision to sign the bill into law comes less than a week since he announced plans to put the legislation on hold to give scientists a chance to prove that homosexuality could be triggered by genes and was not a “lifestyle choice.”