Ugandan president refuses to sign anti-gay bill over lack of 'amnesty' provision

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Credit: AP

Uganda's president has refused to sign into law a harsh new bill against homosexuality that prescribes the death penalty in some cases, requesting that it should be amended to recognise "rehabilitation".

Yoweri Museveni’s decision was announced late on Thursday after a meeting of lawmakers in his ruling party, almost all of whom support the bill approved by lawmakers last month.

The meeting resolved to return the bill to the national assembly “with proposals for its improvement,” a statement said.

A press release from the National Resistance Movement, Mr Museveni's political party, said the president is not opposed to the punishments put forward in the bill but proposes "a provision for amnesty" for those who publically declare their homosexuality "as long as he does not act".

Mr Museveni condemned homosexuality during a meeting in the capital, Kampala, on Thursday, charging that “Europe is lost. So they also want us to be lost,” according to footage released by public broadcaster UBC.

Mr Museveni also praised lawmakers for approving the bill, which has drawn international condemnation.

“I congratulate you for that strong stand,” he said in the released video. “It is good that you rejected the pressure from the imperialists. And this is what I told them. Whenever they come to me I say, ‘you, please shut up’.”

Homosexuality is already illegal in the East African country under a colonial-era law criminalising sex acts “against the order of nature”. The punishment for that offence is life imprisonment.

Mr Museveni is under pressure from the international community to veto the bill, which needs his signature to become law. The US has warned of economic consequences if the legislation is enacted. A group of UN experts has described the bill, if enacted, as “an egregious violation of human rights”.

An LGBT+ activist in Uganda tells ITV News they've received a barrage of homophobic messages since the bill began its journey through parliament

Amnesty International in a statement earlier on Thursday had urged Museveni to veto what the group described as a “draconian and overly broad” bill.

“The passing of this appalling bill is a heart-breaking moment for the LGBTI community and their loved ones in Uganda,” Agnes Callamard, the group’s leader, said in the statement. “Nobody should ever be criminalised for their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The bill enjoys wide support in Uganda, including among church leaders and others who have called for a harsh new law targeting homosexuals. It was introduced by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBT+ activities in the country. Only two of 389 legislators present for the voting session opposed the bill.

The bill prescribes the death penalty for the offense of “aggravated homosexuality”, and life imprisonment for “homosexuality”.

Aggravated homosexuality is defined as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV, as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people.

Jail terms of up to 20 years are proposed for those who advocate or promote the rights of LGBT+ people.

A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be jailed for 14 years and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years, according to the bill.

Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has grown in recent weeks amid press reports alleging sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious one for boys where a parent accused a teacher of abusing her son.

The decision in February of the Church of England to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples also has angered many in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, including some who see homosexuality as imported from abroad.

Homosexuality is criminalised in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.

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