(Photo: Flickr/Creative Common)
Gays and lesibians face rejection and violence in many parts of the developing world, perhaps nowhere more so than in sub-Saharan Africa, where same-sex activity can lead to prosecution, even death, due to conservative values and long established taboos.
In Uganda, the country’s parliament has proposed a bill calling for the life imprisonment of citizens who commit homosexual acts. Reportedly, the legislation has the support of the majority of the public. (Under a prior version of law, capital punishment was proposed, but that clause was dropped).
Under current laws, homosexuality is already illegal and can be punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
The virulently anti-gay measures puts President Yoweri Museveni in a difficult spot – he cannot openly oppose the bill out of fear of alienating the electorate. Conversely, by supporting the bill, Museveni would anger western nations and potentially threaten financial aid and investment in the East African nation.
As such, Museveni has adopted a neutral stance on the inflammatory issue. The president has declared that gays should not be murdered or prosecuted, but he added that he opposes the promotion of homosexuality in any way.
"If there are some homosexuals, we shall not kill or persecute them but there should be no promotion of homosexuality,” he said at a church.
"We cannot accept promotion of homosexuality as if it is a good thing."
Gay rights activists claim there are about a half-million homosexuals in Uganda out of a population of about 32 million, BBC reported.
Parliament will not vote on the bill until January at the earliest – but even if Kampala MPs pass it, it remains subject to approval by the president.
BBC noted that, unlike some African leaders, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who claimed homosexuality violates African culture and was “imported” by Western colonialists, Museveni has taken a less strident view. In fact, Museveni admitted that homosexuality has long been practiced in Africa from long before the arrival of the Europeans. But he cautioned that such activities were a private matter and never discussed, much less encouraged.
Nonetheless, gays in Uganda remain the targets of extreme violence. Last year, gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered.
Julian Pepe, a gay Ugandan rights campaigner told BBC: "I feel scared. I feel I am in danger. I've tried to put a few security measures in place and I am constantly watching over my shoulder."
The MP who initially proposed the anti-gay bill, David Bahati, from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), defended his position.
"Here, we don't recognize homosexuality as a right. We are after the sin, not the sinners. We love them -- and we want them to repent and come back," he said .
"It's not an inborn orientation, it's a behavior learnt - and it can be unlearnt. That's why we are encouraging churches and mosques to continue rehabilitating and counseling these people."
Meanwhile, in the African state of Cameroon a gay man has been jailed for three years for sending a text message saying “I'm very much in love with you” to another man.
Jean-Claude Roger Mbédé's sentence was upheld by an appeals court in the capital Yaoundé.
Associated Press reported that Mbédé's lawyer, Alice Nkom, is seeking to decriminalize homosexuality in Cameroon, one of the most sexually repressive countries on the continent.
Under present laws, people convicted of engaging in homosexual acts face prison terms of up to five years.
Human Rights Watch stated that last year 14 Cameroonians were prosecuted for homosexuality and 12 were convicted.
Mbédé, who was provisionally released on bail in July after spending a year and a half in prison now has 10 days now to file an appeal to the supreme court.
"I am going back to the dismal conditions that got me critically ill before I was temporarily released for medical reasons," he told AP.
"I am not sure I can put up with the anti-gay attacks and harassment I underwent at the hands of fellow inmates and prison authorities on account of my perceived and unproven sexual orientation. The justice system in this country is just so unfair."
Neela Ghoshal of HRW said Cameroon arrests, prosecutes and convicts more people than any other country in Africa for consensual same-sex adult conduct, according to AP.
"In most of these cases there is little or no evidence. Usually people are convicted on the basis of allegations or denunciations from people who have claimed to law enforcement officials that they are gay," she added.
South Africa is the only nation in Africa where the rights of homosexuals are guaranteed by the constitution and which recognizes gay marriage.
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