KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s parliamentary speaker said she wanted to pass as a “Christmas gift” for Ugandans an anti-gay law, which rights groups have criticised for its draconian penalties against homosexuals.
The bill had initially proposed the death penalty for gays in the conservative east African country but still presents an array of jail terms for convicted homosexuals, including life imprisonment in certain circumstances.
Denounced as “odious” by U.S. President Barack Obama, the bill has left veteran President Yoweri Museveni struggling to balance the demands of the evangelical church on one side and aid donors on the other.
Some international donors have threatened to cut aid if the legislation, which is now before a parliamentary committee and was first introduced in parliament in 2009, becomes law.
“Ugandans want that law as a Christmas gift. They have asked for it and we’ll give them that gift,” parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga told Reuters on Tuesday.
As House speaker Kadaga can ask the committee to expedite scrutiny of a bill in order to bring it back to the House for final debate and voting.
Existing legislation already outlaws gay sex. The new bill prohibits the “promotion” of gay rights and punishes anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality” or “abets homosexuality”.
Kadaga said it was still possible to pass the bill this year although there was little time remaining before the House went on recess for Christmas holidays.
“It’s very, very possible, we can do it,” Kadaga said.
Homosexuality is taboo in many African nations. It is illegal in 37 countries on the continent, including Uganda, and activists say few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of jobs.
Last month Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, Daily Monitor, reported a spat in Canada between Kadaga and Canada’s foreign minister over Uganda’s harassment of gay people.
“If homosexuality is a value for the people of Canada they should not seek to force Uganda to embrace it. We are not a colony or a protectorate of Canada,” the paper quoted Kadaga as saying.
Her comments drew support among some Ugandans on Twitter and Facebook and upon returning from Canada she received a rapturous welcome at Entebbe, Uganda’s main international airport.
Clare Byarugaba, coordinator for Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL), said the group would petition the constitutional court to declare the draft legislation unconstitutional.
“The international community supports us and we also believe in the constitution of our country which protects the rights and freedoms of everyone,” she said.
“And we’ll petition it (constitutional court) and we strongly believe the law will be on our side,” she said.
International activist group Avaaz condemned the decision.
“Sentencing people to life in prison for love is not a ”Christmas gift“, it’s a sickening violation of human rights,” campaign director Emma Ruby-Sachs said in a statement.
In August gay rights activists hacked several Ugandan government websites to denounce what they regard as harassment of homosexuals in the east African country.
The country also banned 38 NGOs in July it accused of promoting homosexuality and recruiting children into homosexuality.
Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Keiron Henderson