BY NATASHA BARSOTTI - The BBC is reporting that a committee of Ugandan MPs has pulled the death penalty provision from the David Bahati "anti-homosexuality" bill, even as they have endorsed the proposed measure, which is up for parliamentary debate imminently.
"I can confirm it has been dropped," MP Medard Segona, who is on the legal and parliamentary committee, reportedly told the BBC. The report quotes him as saying that "substantial amendments" have been made to the so-called "Kill the Gays" bill, but he declined to give more details.
"Some of us who are human rights activists would discourage the death penalty," he added. Segona noted that debate on the legislation would occur before the Christmas break but said he couldn't be "more precise" on the timing.
Homosexuality is already criminalized in the country, but the proposed measure, initiated in 2009, increases the penalties. The Bahati bill called for the death penalty in cases of "aggravated homosexuality": that is, if one of the parties is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a so-called "serial offender."
With the apparent amendments to the bill, these offences would now carry a sentence of life imprisonment.
Up to yesterday, Nov 22, gay rights activists indicated that the death penalty was still part of the bill's provisions. In a Nov 22 statement, Frank Mugisha, of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), indicated that the bill states that any person alleged to be homosexual would be at risk "in some circumstances" of facing the death penalty.
"There are claims the bill has been watered down, however we reiterate our position that we condemn this bill in its entirety," he says.
"The existing law has already been employed in an arbitrary way, and this Bill will just intensity that effect," Mugisha continues, citing some of its provisions:
"Any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities would face fines of $2,650 or three years in prison."
"Any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours would face the same penalties."
"Any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual would risk 7 years of imprisonment."
Mugisha also notes that any of the offences contained in the bill as drafted can be applied to a Ugandan citizen who allegedly commits them even outside the country.
"It places a total ban on public discussion of an issue whose existence cannot be wished away," he argues. Mugisha ends the statement by calling on the regional and international community to denounce the bill and to conduct "simultaneous peaceful demonstrations at Ugandan foreign missions in your respective countries."
The news that the bill had been put on the parliamentary schedule for debate and vote has once again ignited outrage and calls for action from various quarters.
The site Truth Wins Out provides a roundup of some of the proposed actions people are being asked to take.
Even as some are calling on American President Barack Obama to issue another stern statement against the bill to the Ugandan government, the American ambassador to Uganda, Scott DeLisi, reportedly said the US has decided to continue giving aid to Uganda "despite the ongoing numerous investigations into the misuse of foreign aid." The bill appeared on the parliament's agenda the day after DeLisi made the statement, Box Turtle Bulletin reports.