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Ugandan president signs anti-gay law

NAIROBI - In the latest setback for gay people across Africa, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed a new law that imposes tough penalties for homosexual acts, a move that could jeopardize Uganda's relationship with the Obama administration and Western donors.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new legislation threatens to usher in a new era of harsh justice for offenders and could lead to widespread oppression against gays and lesbians, human rights activists said. The legislation imposes a 14-year prison sentence for first-time offenders and life sentences for repeat offenders found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality."

The law also makes it a crime not to report anyone who breaks the new law, essentially ensuring that gays will need to live secret lives. The law even makes it a crime for the "promotion" and "recognition" of homosexual relations, including by any government entity or nongovernmental organization inside or outside Uganda. And for the first time, lesbians are covered in the new legislation.

"This deeply offensive piece of legislation is an affront to the human rights of all Ugandans and should never have got this far," Michelle Kagari, Africa deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. She described the law as "draconian and damaging."

Kagari added: "This legislation will institutionalize hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. Its passage into law signals a very grave episode in the nation's history."

The law was signed a week after President Barack Obama said the legislation "will be a step backward for all Ugandans" and that enacting it "will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda."

White House press secretary Jay Carney released a statement Monday calling the law "abhorrent."

"As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS," Carney said in the emailed statement. "We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world."

The United States is Uganda's largest donor and staunchest Western ally, giving more than $400 million in aid annually. The Obama administration is widely expected to review its relationship and possibly take measures against Museveni's government to show its displeasure.

However, Museveni showed no signs of concern Monday over the law's potential impact on Western donors, including the United States, or on critics within Africa.

Ugandan officials broke out in loud applause when Museveni signed the bill at his official residence in front of journalists and dignitaries.

"There's now an attempt at social imperialism, to impose social values. We're sorry to see that you in the West] live the way you live, but we keep quiet about it," he said, according to Reuters news agency.

The legislation comes six weeks after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a tough ban on homosexuality that also imposes 14-year prison terms for anyone entering a same-sex union. It also sets 10-year prison sentences for those who run gay clubs or organizations. The legislation triggered an outbreak of anti-gay attacks in parts of Nigeria.

The new Ugandan law is considered to be even more restrictive.

Same-sex relationships are widely prohibited among the continent's conservative societies. In many countries, including Uganda and Nigeria, homosexuality has been criminalized since British colonial rule, but the laws were seldom enforced. Today, 38 of Africa's 54 countries ban same-sex relationships, according to Amnesty International.

 


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