We’ve seen this before. News reports are emerging that the Ugandan Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has “dropped” the death penalty from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, exchanging it for life imprisonment for those charged with “aggravated homosexuality” — which could be just about anyone, given the overly-broad wording of the bill’s clauses. What’s distressing is that mainstream and LGBT journalists are picking it up despite Ugandan politicians stressing that they can’t release the committee’s draft recommendations to the public, so all we have are Ugandan politicians’ word for it. The BBC has bungled the story several times before; you’d think they’d be more cautious. I can’t tell you how many times there have been pronouncements that the death penalty was dropped only to find out that it was still in the bill. But I’ll try:
- December 9, 2009, Bloomberg reported that the death penalty would be dropped in exchange for forcing people into ex-gay conversion therapy. That quickly proved to be false.
- The next day, M.P. David Bahati, the bill’s sponsor, told the BBC, “There has been a distortion in the media that we are providing death for gays. That is not true.” Of course, Bahati’s words themsevlves were not true, but the BBC refused to challenge him.
- On January 7, 2010, President Yoweri Museveni told Parliament to drop the death penalty. When Museveni spoke, we thought it was as good as a done deal. A Cabinet member also came forward to say that the bill would be withdrawn. It wasn’t. That same day, the Associated Press misquoted Ugandan LGBT-advocate Frank Mugisha as saying that if the death penalty were dropped, everything would be honkey-dorey. Of course, he said no such thing.
- On January 10, 2010, Scott Lively, one of three anti-gay Americans who put on a horrific conference in Kampala in March 2009 which set the stage for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, joined his voice to the propaganda machinery by announcing his endorsement of the “revised” bill dropping the death penalty, even though the bill was never revised.
- On January 22, 2010, A special Cabinet committee reached a non-compromise “compromise” which reportedly removed the death penalty from the bill. The recommendation was never acted upon.
- On February 5, 2010, the BBC reported that the death penalty would be dropped. By then we were urging everyone to view such reports with skepticism.
- On April 26, 2011, after the bill laid dormant for nearly a year, Bahati began urging that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill be passed before the Eighth Parliament came to an end in May. He re-issued his “concession” that he would consider dropping the death penalty from the bill if it would help to move the bill forward. If nothing else, that “concession” is at least tacit confirmation that all of the prior statements about the death penalty being dropped were false. Nevertheless, the Associated Press quickly announced that the death penalty had been dropped. Again.
- On May 11, 2011. The Los Angeles Times jumped onto the bandwagon and announced that the death penalty had been dropped. Again, it hadn’t. The very next day, Human Rights Watch learned that the death penalty had, in fact, not been dropped. It had been merely substituted with wording which referred to a separate part of the Ugandan Penal Code, to a section which provided the death penalty. Only those who knew what Section 129 was would understand that the death penalty was still in the bill.
- On May 22, 2011, after the Eight Parliament ended without voting on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Bahati vowed to reintroduce the bill into the Ninth Parliament. He also repeated the false claim that the death penalty had been removed.
- On February 7, 2012, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reintroduced in Parliament, with the same wording as the original 2009 bill with the death penalty.
- On February 8, 2012, the BBC false reported, again, that the death penalty had been dropped from the bill.
- On February 9, 2012, the Associated Press, The Advocate, and The Washington Post all reported that the death penalty had been dropped. It hadn’t.
- On February 24, 2012, PBS reported, wrongly, that the death penalty had been dropped. (On April 5, they got it right when they reported on the anti0gay bill on Newshour.)
- On June 12, 2012, M.P. David Bahati again falsely claimed that the death penalty had been removed from the re-introduced bill.
- On June 22, 2012, the Associated Press claimed that the entire bill had been “shelved.” Boy were they wrong.
That’s not an exhaustive list. That’s just what I was able to find quickly this morning.
So now we have fresh reports that the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has again “dropped” the death penalty from its recommendations to Parliament, the same announcement that they made before when their tried to pull their death-by-stealth move in May 2011. But this time, they say that they can’t release the draft of their recommendations before Parliament because, you know, it’s a “secret.” Gotta follow the rules, you know. But despite this track record, the BBC and Pink News are confidently reporting that the death penalty has been dropped. Journalists with very short attention spans might believe it, but I don’t. And neither should you until we can all see it in writing — and the recomendation is adopted by the full Parliament. Nothing gets dropped until that vote takes place, and it hasn’t happened yet.