Uganda tabloid under fire for publishing gay list

Anthony Cuesta | September 12, 2006

President Yoweri Museveni
In a country where a sodomy conviction carries a penalty of life imprisonment, a Ugandan tabloid�s decision to publish the names of alleged homosexuals is a chilling development that could presage a government crackdown, Human Rights Watch said Friday.

�For years, President Yoweri Museveni�s government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual-rights activists to harassment,� said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program of Human Rights Watch, in a media statement issued by the organization Friday. �At a moment when sensational publicity has spread fear among a whole community, the authorities must exercise their responsibility to protect, not persecute.�

On August 8, the tabloid paper Red Pepper published a list of first names, workplaces and other identifying information of 45 alleged homosexuals, all men. The paper claimed it was publishing the list �to show the nation� how fast the terrible vice known as sodomy is eating up our society.� The paper has since told civil society activists that it plans to publish a similar list of alleged lesbians.

But an editor at the paper told the BBC that it was not a witchhunt and that no man on the list was identifiable.

"We don't want to expose them (homosexuals) to the government and the police has never contacted us to investigate the list. This country is very very tolerant," the Red Pepper editor, who asked not to be named, told the BBC.

But HRW says the gay and lesbian community in Uganda has long been stigmatized and harassed by the government.

Homophobic allegations in the Red Pepper have previously led to police action, says HRW. In 2002, the tabloid ran banner headlines and photographs about an alleged wedding between two women. Kampala police promptly arrested the women in question. Although they were freed when an attorney intervened, they were jailed again and held for several days, allegedly for their own safety, after a mob threatened them. A Ugandan pastor who had counseled them was later forced to leave the country.

Same-sex sexual relations are criminalized in Uganda under a sodomy law inherited from British colonial rule. Section 140 of the Penal Code criminalizes �carnal knowledge against the order of nature� with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Section 141 punishes �attempts� at carnal knowledge with a maximum of seven years� imprisonment. Section 143 punishes acts of �gross indecency� with up to five years in prison. In both Britain and Uganda, these terms were long understood to describe consensual homosexual conduct between men. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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