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Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania move to further curtail LGBTQ rights

Ugandan MPs considering another anti-homosexuality bill

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The flags of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. (Photos via Bigstock)

Three East African countries are tightening the noose on the so-called promotion of homosexuality through new laws and banning LGBTQ-specific content.

Lawmakers in Uganda and Kenya have introduced bills that would curtail the promotion of LGBTQ-specific activities with stiff penalties above their respective penal codes that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Tanzania has recently banned LGBTQ-specific books.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2022, would sentence anyone who identifies with “lesbianism, gay, transgender, queer or any other sexual or gender identity contrary to the binary categories of male and female” to 10 years in prison. 

The proposed law that was set to be tabled any time after its postponement on Wednesday for further preparation would impose a 5-year prison sentence or a fine of around $27,000 or both to anyone who is found guilty of promoting homosexuality in Uganda. The measure’s definition of promotion includes production, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating using electronic devices, publishing LGBTQ pornography and funding or sponsoring homosexuality. 

Uganda’s latest move follows a growing number of LGBTQ-specific activities in the country that include the painting of rainbow colors at a children’s park in January that a local council removed because it went “against the norms of the people of Uganda.” 

Moreover, Uganda’s NGO Bureau, which monitors NGOs that operate in the country, in January recommended a new law that “prohibits the promotion of LGBTQ activities in the country.”

Also, the move results from the Church of England’s decision earlier this year to allow its priests to bless same-sex couples. This angered the Anglican Church of Uganda and Muslims who called upon MPs to crack down on homosexuality through legislation.      

Anyone convicted of providing a house, a brothel or any other place in which LGBTQ-specific activities can take place could face up to seven years in jail under the new bill.

“Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be canceled and the director, proprietor or promoter shall be liable to two years imprisonment on conviction,” the bill reads. 

Anyone found guilty of conducting a same-sex marriage could face up to two years in prison and the business that hosts such a ceremony could lose their business license.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has cautioned Uganda’s Parliament against proceeding with the bill, while noting that the “State has a duty to ensure full protection of all people from violence and discrimination regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBTQ and intersex rights activist, has raised concerns about a rising number of homophobic attacks committed by people and security officials in the country since January.

“The LGBTQ community continues to face a harsh operational environment, an increase in direct and indirect attacks, and surveillance in its spaces. This has made it difficult for LGBTQ organizations to do advocacy and deliver services to the communities because of the fear of being arrested by security agencies,” Mugisha said in a statement. 

He has documented dozens of harassment and assault incidents to LGBTQ and intersex people, including one on February 18 where a transgender woman residing in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, was assaulted at a friend’s party after discovering her gender.       

In Kenya, a bill that would further criminalize and punish people who engage in homosexuality and promote it is poised to be introduced in the country’s Parliament. 

“The proposed law intended to further the provision of Article 45 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya and to protect the family will not only consolidate the existing laws relating to unnatural sexual acts but also increase the penalty for those convicted of engaging or promoting the acts to imprisonment for life or consummate sentence,” reads the notification. “Article 45 (2) of the constitution provides that every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex based on the free consent of the parties to start a family, which is recognized as the natural and fundamental unit of society.”

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling that allows an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, to register as an NGO after years of court battles with the country’s NGOs Board has elicited criticism from religious leaders, lawmakers, the president and Kenyans themselves.

“We respect our court’s decisions but in Kenya, we have our culture, traditions, and religious beliefs. We can’t go the road of women marrying women or men marrying men. Same-sex marriage will happen somewhere else and not in Kenya,” President William Ruto stated on March 2 at a women’s function in Nairobi, the country’s capital.

Pressure is mounting on the seven Supreme Court judges to reverse the ruling, with Attorney General Justin Muturi vowing to challenge it. Muslim and Christian groups have planned a March 17 protest against the ruling.

The ruling has put the judges in a bind since a Supreme Court decision is final and cannot be appealed in any court in the country. The East African Court of Justice, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, can consider an appeal.

Critics of the ruling argue that the queer group does not deserve an association, since Kenya’s penal code criminalizes homosexuality and the Supreme Court decision gives leeway for legalizing it from an appeal pending in the country’s second highest court.

Thirteen groups that include the American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International-Kenya, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Kenya Human Rights Commission on Thursday issued a joint statement in support of the ruling. 

“The judgment has demonstrated the great strides that Kenya has taken to promote the rule of law, democracy, and human rights,” it reads.

The groups insist that granting the LGBTQ and intersex community the right to form associations is in line with the spirit of Kenya’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression under Article 33 and freedom of association under Article 27 without any form of discrimination.

Tanzania, which also criminalizes same-sex relations, has joined neighboring Kenya and Uganda in restricting LGBTQ and rights. 

President Samia Suluhu last month described LGBTQ rights as “imported cultures” as she cautioned university students against it. 

The Tanzanian government recently banned a popular series of children’s books from schools that contain LGBTQ-specific content. 

“The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by U.S. author Jeff Kinney and another book, “Sex Education: A Guide to Life” were removed from libraries in public and private schools. The government has also committed to increasing its surveillance on books with LGBTQ-specific content.

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Africa

Ugandan activists appeal ruling that upheld Anti-Homosexuality Act

Country’s Constitutional Court refused to ‘nullify’ law

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Twenty-two LGBTQ activists in Uganda have appealed this month’s ruling that upheld the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”

President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Media reports indicate Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara are among the activists who filed the appeal.

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Africa

Congolese lawmaker introduces anti-homosexuality bill

Constant Mutamba’s measure seen as distraction from country’s problems

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Congolese MP Constant Mutamba (Photo courtesy of Mutamba's X account)

A member of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Assembly who is a leader of the country’s opposition party has introduced a bill that would criminalize LGBTQ people.

Part of the bill that Constant Mutamba, leader of the Dynamic Progressive Revolutionary Opposition platform, has put forth states anyone who “commits a homosexual act (including acts and gestures) will be liable to a 5- or 10-year prison sentence.”

The country in recent years has seen government leaders and civic society target the community with anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

The Superior Council for Audiovisual and Communication, Media Regulatory Authority  last June cautioned the media against showing LGBTQ-specific conversations. Several activists have criticized Mutamba’s bill, saying it seeks to move attention away from governance, service delivery and other pertinent issues in the country.

Sirius Tekasala, a human rights activist, said a person’s sexual orientation does not impact issues of governance.

“The proposed bill does not go in the direction of improving the socio-economic life of the Congolese people,” said Tekasala. “It’s not homosexuals who prevent you from doing your job well or from breathing. This is a violation of human rights.”

Mbuela Mbadu Dieudonné, a social analyst and trade unionist, said the bill is just a way of deviating people from the pertinent issues.

“He should suggest how to get the Congolese people out of this precariousness of life which is growing on a daily basis,” said Dieudonné. “When we don’t know the real problems of the Congolese people, he sets himself up as the great director of scenes to distract the Congolese people.”

Many Congolese, however, seem to support the bill and have applauded Mutamba for drafting it.

This is not the first time that such kind of a bill has been drafted.

An anti-homosexuality bill introduced in 2010 would have sentenced people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual relations to between three and five years in prison. The measure, however, did not become law.

Mutamba’s bill, however, may pass with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in effect. The country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month upheld it. Burundi, Tanzania and other neighboring countries are also considering similar measures.

Many Congolese people view LGBTQ rights as a Western phenomenon that disregards their religious and cultural beliefs. LGBTQ Congolese are among those who have fled the country and sought refuge in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and other places.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are not criminalized in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Congolese law does not recognize same-sex marriages.

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Africa

Prominent transgender woman in Nigeria arrested, charged with defacing currency

Authorities say Idris Okuneye, known as Bobrisky, flaunted money

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Bobrisky's arrest has sparked concern among Nigerian activists. (Photos courtesy of Bobrisky's Facebook page)

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s decision to arrest a well-known transgender woman over the practice of flaunting money has sparked questions among several human rights activists.

Idris Okuneye, who is known as Bobrisky, was first arrested last Wednesday.

Justice Abimbola Awogboro of the Lagos Federal High Court on April 5 charged her with four counts of mutilating N490,000 (roughly $375.)

The EFCC alleges Bobrinsky between last July and August flaunted N50,000 (roughly $36) during a social event and N400,000 ($306) at another gathering last month. Bobrinsky has been charged with violating section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act of 2007.

“The Lagos Zonal EFCC, on Friday, April 5, 2024, secured the conviction of Idris Okuneye, (Bobrisky), before Justice Abimbola Awogboro sitting at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos over mutilation of the Naira notes,” reads the EFCC complaint that misgenders Bobrisky. “He was arraigned on Friday on a four-count charge bordering on mutilation of the Naira notes to the tune of N490,000.”

“Justice Awogboro, thereafter, ruled, that upon the admission of guilt by the defendant, and following the evidence tendered, the defendant is declared guilty as charged,” adds the statement.

The EFCC said after listening to both parties, Awogboro delayed his ruling and also ordered that Bobrisky remain in EFCC custody. Activist Felix Abayomi said the EFCC was simply using Bobrisky as a scapegoat due to the fact that she is a vulnerable member of the society.

“Discrimination in the name of implementing a pick and choose law! Why go after someone that is a vulnerable member of our society? Someone that is clearly dealing and coping with stigmatization of her lifestyle choices which is innate. Using her as a scapegoat is uncalled for,” said Abayomi. “How does spraying the Naira that is cultural to us as a people ever even become a financial crime? People who commit economic and financial crimes against us as a people and against our nation state are sitting comfortably in the hollows of our legislative chambers and power.”

Chidi Odinkalu, the former chair of the National Human Rights Commission, said the arrest was not about the mutilation of the Naira notes, but about Bobrisky’s gender identity.

“The EFCC should be ashamed of themselves,” said Odinkalu. “The power of arrest and prosecution is a public trust that should not be weaponized for the persecution of those whom they don’t like. It is either the EFCC is evidently idle or this is a clear abuse of power.” 

EFCC spokesperson Dele Oyewale said Odinkalu’s statements were reckless.

“The commission views such commentaries from Odinkalu as unbecoming of a former head of a major government agency,” said Oyewale. “Okuneye was arrested and arraigned by the commission on the basis of clear cases of abuse of the Naira to which he has pleaded guilty.”

“Odinkalu has a right to free speech as a Nigerian, but such a right should be exercised with decorum and responsibility,” added Oyewale. “The commission would not hesitate to take appropriate legal actions against such uncouth commentaries against its lawful mandate by anyone. Odinkalu is warned and advised to ventilate his rascally opinions more responsibly in future situations.” 

Bobrisky is one of the few individuals on the African continent who has publicly discussed their gender transition.

Ever since she started to publicly show her transition, several Nigerian political pundits have been calling for her arrest. There are no laws that specifically target trans Nigerians, but the Same-Sex Marriage Act criminalizes same-sex marriages and prohibits the public display of same-sex relationships with up to 14 years in prison.

In states where Sharia law is practiced, those found engaging in same-sex sexual activities can be sentenced to death by stoning. Even those who identify as trans can receive 50 lashes or more.

Update: Awogboro on Friday sentenced Bobrisky to six months in prison without the option of paying a fine. Reports indicate authorities will send her to a men’s prison.

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