Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, despite initial hesitation, has reportedly signed the anti-gay law into effect.
According to the New York Times, Museveni told members of his party on Friday, February 14 that he intended to sign the bill that imposes harsh sentences for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment.
The bill would allow the sentencing of first time “offenders” to a fourteen-year prison sentence, whereas repeat offenders declared guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” could receive a lifetime prison sentence.
Despite a colonial-era law that was already banning homosexual acts in Uganda, the government still felt the need to further increase punishment, much like a recent law in Nigeria. Now, the promotion of homosexuality, acts of public affection, and even failure to report homosexuality can all result in prison time in Uganda.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo tweeted: “The NRM caucus has welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants.”
A revised version of the 2009 bill, which no longer includes the death penalty due to international outcry, was passed through parliament in December 2013.
However, Museveni wrote a letter to parliament to say that the bill had been passed with procedural errors and it would require a more in-depth study to determine whether homosexuality was genetic or not.
According to another of Opondo’s tweets, posted on Valentine’s Day, Museveni’s decision “comes after 14 medical experts presented a report that homosexuality is not genetic but a social behaviour.”
These “findings” were quickly disputed in an open letter written by more than fifty of the world’s top public health scientists and researchers. They wrote, “Homosexuality is not a pathology, an abnormality, a mental disorder or an illness: It is a variant of sexual behaviour found in people around the world. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are normal.”
The bill has popular support in Uganda, where over ninety percent of the country opposes the social acceptance of homosexuality. In turn, Christian clerics and government officials have continued to pressure Museveni to sign the bill in order to prevent homosexuals from “recruiting” Ugandan children.
US President Barack Obama told Museveni that the law would impact and further complicate their relations. Currently the US is one of the largest foreign aid donors to Uganda.
Despite Obama’s warning, Museveni has gone ahead to sign the law based on the scientific findings presented to him, whilst a Ugandan government spokesman has told the US they don’t need their aid.
Government spokesman Tamale Mirundi told Nation TV, “[you]talk about homosexuality when the people don’t even want to talk about it.
“The President cannot be intimidated. If you want to get anything from the President you negotiate with him. If you use the aid or other strings you are inciting the population in Uganda to rally behind the President.”