AP Misquotes Ugandan LGBT Advocate Saying Dropping Death Penalty Is Good Enough
January 7th, 2010
The Associated Press story we pointed to this morning indicating that Uganda’s president is urging lawmakers to drop the death penalty provision from its otherwise still-draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill contains a horrible misquote by a Ugandan LGBT activist, one which completely obscures the fact that this proposed modification is almost negligible. The AP story suggests that all the Ugandan Parliament needs to do is drop the death penalty provision, and Uganda’s LGBT advocates will then fall in line and support the government.
This is a gross misrepresentation Let me explain. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, as currently written, would:
- Expand the definitions for homosexual acts, making conviction easier. Current law requires evidence of penetration. The new law would expand the definition of homosexual activity to”touch(ing) another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” Touching itself is defined as “touching—(a) with any part of the body; (b) with anything else; (c) through anything; and in particular includes touching amounting to penetration of any sexual organ. anus or mouth.”
- Affirm Uganda’s lifetime imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality.
- Define a new crime of “aggravated homosexuality” for those who engage in sex with someone under the age of 18, who are HIV-positive, who is a “repeat offender” (so broadly defined as to include anyone who has had a relationship with more than one person, or who had sex with the same person more than once), or who had sex with a disabled person (consensual or not). The penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is death by hanging.
- Require anyone arrested on suspicion of homosexuality to undergo HIV testing to determine the individual’s qualification for prosecution of “aggravated homosexuality.”
- Criminalize “attempted homosexuality” with imprisonment of seven years.
- Criminalize “promoting” homosexuality with fines and imprisonment of between five and seven years. This overly-broad provision would criminalize all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda . It could also be used against anyone extending counseling or otherwise aiding gay people. It would also criminalize any attempt to repeal or modify the law in the future, as those moves could also be seen as “promoting” homosexuality.
- Criminalize the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
- Add a clause which forces friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24-hours of learning about that individual’s homosexuality or face fines or imprisonment of up to three years.
- Penalize landlords and hotel owners with five to seven years imprisonment for renting to LGBT people.
- Add an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.
- Void all international treaties, agreements and human rights obligations which conflict with this bill.
As you can see, dropping the death penalty provision, while an important feature, is barely a concession given the scope of the bill. It’s debatable whether there’s much of a difference between the death penalty and spending a lifetime in Ugandan prisons. It still criminalizes knowing someone who is gay, it still criminalizes renting a room or flat to someone who is gay, it still criminalizes gay Ugandans living abroad, and it still criminalizes all acts of free speech or giving any sort of aide to gay people.
But the AP article implies that it is only the death penalty provision that Ugandan LGBT advocates object to:
Frank Mugisha, leader of Sex Minorities Uganda, said the gay-rights group will campaign for and support President Yoweri Museveni in the 2011 polls because of his opposition to the bill’s harsher provisions.
“If one scratches your back you also scratch his back,” Mugisha said. “Museveni’s action shows that he is a true democrat. As a head of state he is doing the right thing of protecting all interests of its citizens including those of the minorities.”
Frank Mugisha tells Warren Throckmorton that this is not at all what he said:
I called Frank Mugisha to ask if he was quoted correctly and he said no, he was not quoted correctly. He said he did not say, ‘if one scratches your back, you also scratch his back.’ He also noted that Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUg) does not support specific political parties, saying
We are not political. As an organization, we don’t support any party. Like all Ugandans, some of our members support one party, and others support another party.
Regarding President Museveni, Mugisha said he did not know what stance he had taken. His comment to the reporter was meant to be a hypothetical statement, saying
I said, ‘if the President protects gays, then he is being democratic.’ We do not know yet what he is going to do.