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Uganda: President signs anti-gay bill with harsh penalties into law

President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni (c) leaves Number 10 Downing Street after his meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on March 9, 2009 in London. Mr Museveni, the current Chairman of the Commonwealth, is meeting Mr Brown as part of his visit
(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

On Monday Uganda became the latest African country to sign an anti-gay bill into law. As the Associated Press reports on Feb. 24, President Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial bill in an event witnessed by government officials.

The bill, first introduced in 2009, has harsh penalties for anyone engaging in homosexual sex. Museveni sites the attempted influence of Western groups as the necessary means for signing the bill because these groups, in his opinion, had tried to “recruit” Ugandan children into homosexuality which was the initial intent of the bill back in 2009.

Under the new law, first-time offenders can be sentenced up to 14 years in jail. Repeat offenders can face life imprisonment, which is the maximum penalty for a category of offenses labeled as “aggravated homosexuality.” The offense, in its description, is related to repeated gay sex between consenting adults as well as acts involving minors, those who are disabled or sexual activity where one partner is infected with HIV.

Although international rights groups are condemning the bill, it is popular in Uganda and that was showcased by the applause Museveni received as he signed the bill. The Ugandan president did so despite threats from some European countries that said they would cut aid to Uganda and also a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama who said signing the bill into law would complicate relations between the African country and Washington.

But what about the LGBT communities in Uganda who have seen their already harsh conditions in the country now turn them into criminals. Gay rights activist Pepe Julian Onziema expressed his disappointment that the bill was signed without any attempt to get to know a gay individual in the country and how they would be affected.

“The president is making this decision because he has never met an openly gay person. That disappoints me.”

He is not the only one sharing that disappointment. Museveni has gone from a person who believed homosexuality was someone was born with to being convinced that it is a choice. But who would choose to be recipients of harsh treatment for being who they are and who would choose life imprisonment for following their hearts?

Some believe this may just be a political move for Museveni to gain support in the next presidential election in 2016.

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