Africa

Gay people ready to flee Uganda

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Human rights groups say dozens of gay people have fled Uganda after a law which jails homosexuals for life was introduced.

Gay people are fleeing Uganda because they fear for their lives after the introduction of a law that stiffens penalties for homosexuals.

"I am really scared. Right now, I am getting threats left, right and centre from unknown people through telephone calls, text messages and Facebook," gay activist Dennis Wamala said.

According to Julian Pepe Onziema, a member of the human rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda, about a dozen gays have already moved to neighbouring Kenya since the bill was approved by parliament in late December.

"People are coming to us saying they want to leave," Onziema said on Monday, the day the bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni.

The law, which has been strongly criticised by Western governments and human rights groups, punishes first-time offenders with up to 14 years in jail.

People convicted of having had same-sex intercourse with a disabled person or a minor, as well as HIV-positive people caught engaging in homosexual acts, face the risk of life imprisonment.

With over 80 per cent of the population of nearly 35 million describing themselves as Christian, Ugandan society is widely supportive of the new law.

In defending it, Museveni has said that he wants to protect Ugandan children after being persuaded by scientists that homosexuality is a learnt behaviour, rather than hereditary.

"Their [scientists] unanimous conclusion was that homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioural and not genetic. It was learnt and could be unlearnt," Museveni said.

Activists, however, say the bill has only ended up stoking homophobia.

"Police keep harassing me. They are turning the public against me. I get threatening phone calls. I fear for my life," Sam Ganafa, who is already facing charges related to homosexual offences, said.

The 42-year old said he had already heard of "arrests and attempted mob justice" against homosexuals.

He cites the recent case of a woman who was allegedly gang-raped by people wanting to "cure her of lesbianism".

With major donors such as the United States, Denmark and Sweden having already threatened retaliatory measures against Uganda, local gay activists say they will not give up without a fight.

"We are going to stay around and fight on. We are going to challenge [the law] in court," says Wamala.

It will be extremely difficult for Uganda's gay community to overturn the law.

With homosexuality traditionally frowned upon in large parts of Africa, even Uganda's opposition politicians have not openly condemned the law out of concern that it will cost them votes.

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