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Uganda newspaper lists homosexuals

Gives addresses, calls for violence; four are attacked

By Godfrey Olukya and Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / October 20, 2010

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KAMPALA, Uganda — The front-page newspaper story featured a list of Uganda’s 100 top homosexuals, with a bright yellow banner across it that read: “Hang Them.’’ Alongside their photos were the men’s names and addresses.

In the days since it was published, at least four gay Ugandans on the list have been attacked, and many others are in hiding, according to rights activist Julian Onziema. One person named in the story had stones thrown at his house by neighbors.

A lawmaker in this conservative African country introduced a bill a year ago that would have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts and life in prison for others. An international uproar ensued, and the bill was quietly shelved.

But gays in Uganda say they have faced a year of harassment and attacks since the bill’s introduction.

The legislation was drawn up after a visit by US conservative Christian ministries leaders, promoting therapy they say allows gays to become heterosexual.

“Before the introduction of the bill in Parliament most people did not mind about our activities,’’ said Patrick Ndede, 27. “But since then, we are harassed by many people who hate homosexuality. The publicity the bill got made many people come to know about us, and they started mistreating us.’’

More than 20 homosexuals have been attacked over the past year in Uganda, and an additional 17 have been arrested and are in prison, said Frank Mugisha, the chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Those numbers are up from the same period two years ago, when about 10 homosexuals were attacked, he said.

The bill became political poison after the international condemnation. Many Christian leaders have denounced it, and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signaled to legislators that they should not take it up.

Four members of Parliament declined to comment and instead referred queries to David Bahati, the parliamentarian who introduced the bill. Bahati did not answer repeated calls yesterday.

Homophobia is rife in many African countries. Homosexuality is punishable by death or imprisonment in Nigeria. In South Africa, the only African nation to recognize gay marriage, gangs carry out “corrective’’ rapes on lesbians.

Solomon Male, a pastor and the head of a group of clergy in Uganda, said he is glad the antihomosexual bill has not yet passed, but said there needs to be an investigation to find out “why homosexuality is increasing in the country.’’

The Oct. 9 article in a Ugandan newspaper called Rolling Stone — not the American magazine — was published five days before the one-year anniversary of the controversial legislation. The article claimed that an unknown but deadly disease was attacking homosexuals in Uganda and that gays were recruiting 1 million children by raiding schools.

After the newspaper hit the streets, the government Media Council ordered the paper to cease publishing — not because of its content, but rather that the paper had not registered with the government. After it completes the paperwork, Rolling Stone will be free to publish again, said Paul Mukasa, secretary of the Media Council.

That decision has angered the gay community further. Onziema said that a lawsuit against Rolling Stone is in the works and that she believes the publication has submitted its registration and plans to publish again.

“Such kind of media should not be allowed in Uganda. It is creating violence and calling for genocide of sex minorities,’’ said Mugisha. “The law enforcers and government should come out and protect sex minorities from such media.’’

Rolling Stone does not have a large following in Uganda, a country of 32 million where about 85 percent of people are Christian and 12 percent are Muslim. The paper published its first edition Aug. 23. It publishes about 2,000 copies, but a single newspaper in Uganda is often read by 10 more people.

Giles Muhame, the paper’s managing editor, said the article was “in the public interest.’’

“We felt there was need for society to know that such characters exist amongst them,’’ he said. “Some of them recruit young children into homosexuality, which is bad, and need to be exposed. They take advantage of poverty to recruit Ugandans. In brief, we did so because homosexuality is illegal, unacceptable, and insults our traditional lifestyle.’’

Onziema said the proposed bill already has led to evictions from apartments, intimidation on the street, unlawful arrests, and assaults.

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