KAMPALA, Uganda (UPDATED) – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is to sign into law a controversial bill that will see homosexuals jailed for life, despite international pressure, a government spokesman said Monday.
Confirmation of the decision, made following local “scientific” analysis of the issue, came as US President Barack Obama warned Museveni that the legislation was a “step backward” that would complicate ties between Washington and Kampala.
“He will ascend the bill. This bill is very popular both within the parliament and Ugandan society. The president is under strong domestic pressure to sign the bill,” Ofwono Opondo said. (READ: Uganda adopts draconian anti-gay bill)
The Ugandan anti-gay bill cruised through parliament in December after its architects agreed to drop an extremely controversial death penalty clause, although the bill still says that repeat homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays.
Museveni, a key African ally of the United States and the European Union, has already been under fire from key Western donors over alleged rampant corruption, and had been under pressure from diplomats and rights groups to block the legislation.
Last month a spokesman for Museveni said the president believed that gays were “sick” and “abnormal”, but felt that sending them to prison was not the right solution.
However Opondo said the president had decided to support the bill after seeking advice from a team of domestic scientists who were asked to “study homosexuality and genetics in human beings.”
According to the spokesman, the scientists concluded that “there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality”, meaning that “homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour which may be learned through experiences in life.”
“The scientist team has shown that homosexuality is a learned behavior, that some people sometimes do for money, and that is what the president wants to prevent,” Opondo said.
He did not say when Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, would sign off on the text.
‘Gays in danger’
Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise.
On Sunday, Obama issued a strong statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” in the Ugandan leader’s apparent plans to move forward with the bill.
“We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Obama said in a statement.
“That is why I am so deeply disappointed,” he added, saying the law “will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda.”
“It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people,” Obama said.
Gay men and women in the country face frequent harassment and threats of violence, and rights activists have reported cases of lesbians being subjected to “corrective” rapes.
In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights campaigner David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading “Hang Them”.
AIDS activists say that the bill, which also bans the promotion of homosexuality, will prevent gays from having access to essential public health information, such as how to protect themselves from HIV and how to access life-saving treatment and support services.
But according to gay rights activist John Abdallah Wambere, the president backed down to pressure as part of a trade off with parliament, even though this suggestion has been dismissed by Opondo.
“It seems that the president had fears of not being supported for the 2016 elections. He had to cut a deal,” Wambere said.
He said he was now in fear of speaking out in public: “The promotion part of it is the one I am the most concerned about. Because the moment I’ll say anything in relation to gay rights, that is already promotion.” – Rappler.com