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Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law Brings Harsh Consequences for Journalists and LGBTQ+ Community

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The Constitutional Court’s decision to uphold Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 has sent shockwaves through the country, particularly within journalistic circles and the LGBTQ+ community.

Enacted in May, the Act imposes severe penalties, including life imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations, with even harsher punishments for “aggravated homosexuality,” such as relations involving minors, the elderly, or the disabled. This legislation, which has deep roots in a 1950 penal code, has sparked a wave of vigilantism against LGBTQ+ individuals, forcing many into exile or hiding.

One of the notable effects of the law is its impact on journalism, with journalists facing imprisonment for printing, broadcasting, or distributing material deemed to “promote or encourage homosexuality.” Critics fear that this provision could stifle free speech and muzzle the media.

Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights activist involved in challenging the law’s constitutionality, highlighted concerns that positive coverage of the LGBTQ+ community could be misconstrued as promoting homosexuality, leading to legal repercussions.

Moreover, companies found promoting homosexuality face hefty fines or license revocations, adding financial pressure to an already constrained media landscape. Robert Ssempala, executive director of Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, described the penalties as akin to “strangulation.”

Despite these challenges, some journalists remain determined to cover LGBTQ+ issues, albeit cautiously. However, concerns about legal ramifications have led to self-censorship and editorial consultations with legal experts.

The chilling effect of the Anti-Homosexuality Act extends beyond LGBTQ+ reporting, impacting broader journalistic practices. Journalists fear repercussions for critical reporting, with some journalists reporting pressure to tone down coverage or avoid certain topics altogether.

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Uganda has a history of targeting journalists for their reporting on LGBTQ+ issues, raising fears that the law could be used as a pretext to suppress dissent and silence critical voices.

Beyond Uganda, similar threats to freedom of expression loom in other African countries. Ghana and Kenya are considering anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, while Cameroon’s media regulator has threatened censorship of programs promoting homosexual practices.

In the face of these challenges, Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies, including journalists, are defiant. Despite the risks, they vow to continue speaking out, advocating for human rights, and challenging discriminatory laws.

As one activist declared, “We are not a myth. We are your friends, your neighbors, your brothers, and your sisters.” The fight for equality and freedom of expression continues, undeterred by oppressive legislation.

Uganda’s constitutional court has upheld most provisions of one of the world’s harshest anti-gay laws, including its death penalty clause, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling as support for its decision.

The law, which authorizes the death penalty for the vaguely defined act of “aggravated homosexuality,” including same-sex acts by “serial offenders,” was largely upheld in the Ugandan court ruling in a 203-page judgement on Wednesday.

The court struck down four of the law’s provisions, including criminal penalties for those who lease premises to a gay person or fail to report suspicions of same-sex relationships, but left the rest of the law intact.

Critics have said that the U.S. Christian evangelical movement has had a major influence on the Ugandan politicians who passed the anti-gay law. A number of U.S. Christian leaders have organized conferences in Uganda and lobbied the country’s politicians.

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The Ugandan law, approved last May, has led to hundreds of arrests and attacks on LGBTQ people in the country. Human rights groups have documented a lengthy list of cases of Ugandans being evicted from their homes, dismissed from their jobs, detained or tortured by police or attacked on the streets. The law has also triggered similar attempts at anti-gay legislation in other African countries, including Ghana and Kenya.

The Ugandan law sparked a global wave of outrage and condemnation. The World Bank suspended all new lending to Uganda, and the United States announced restrictions on visas for Ugandan officials.

The Ugandan court ruled that the anti-gay law was a reflection of public opinion in the country. “The dogged, indefatigable commitment of the legislature to the enactment of an anti-homosexuality law would suggest that it captures societal sentiments on the subject of homosexuality,” it said.

Ugandan rights groups said they will go to Uganda’s Supreme Court to appeal the court decision.

“This ruling is wrong and deplorable,” said Frank Mugisha, an LGBTQ activist in Uganda, in a statement on Wednesday.

“Uganda’s Constitution protects all of its people, equally. We continue to call for this law to be repealed. This ruling should result in further restrictions to donor funding for Uganda – no donor should be funding anti-LGBTQ hate and human rights violations.”

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