BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Following the latest crackdown on the right of queer Ugandans to assemble, the African country’s government released a statement today saying it doesn’t discriminate against people “of a different sexual orientation.”
"No government official is supposed to harass any section of the community and everybody in Uganda enjoys the freedom to lawfully assemble and associate freely with others,” the statement says.
A National Public Radio report says the content of the release seems to have taken activists by surprise, appearing to suggest tacit recognition of queer Ugandans’ rights.
According to NPR, ethics minister Simon Lokodo, whom activists accuse of disrupting gay conferences and threatening to throw out civic groups he says promote homosexuality, signed the statement after a meeting in which he was asked to put a lid on his anti-gay rhetoric. The NPR report notes that apart from activists, even government officials felt Lokodo had gone too far in his comments and actions. A former Catholic priest, Lokodo is accused of ordering the breakup of two gay confabs this year.
Lokodo faces a court case brought by activists and lawyers who say he violated queer Ugandans’ right to assembly when he ordered police to scatter a gay conference in February.
In the meantime, there is as yet no sense of when or if the government will resume its push of the so-called “kill the gays” bill, which calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” The bill is spearheaded by MP David Bahati, who recently told Uganda’s Saturday Monitor that the measure is in committee and will hopefully be brought back for discussion in parliament. A conference of religious leaders wants parliament to hasten passage of the anti-homosexuality bill to prevent “an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage.”