Uganda: Paper calls for gay people to be hanged

The Guardian

Human rights activists have warned that the lives of gay people inUganda are in danger aftera newspaper published a story featuring the names and photographs of 100 homosexuals under the headline: "Hang Them". At least one person named in the story has been forced to leave her home after neighbours pelted it with stones, and several others have been verbally abused, according to the campaign group Sexual Minorities Uganda.

The article appeared earlier this month in the Rolling Stone newspaper, a new weekly title started by journalism graduates. Its publication came just days before the one-year anniversary of the introduction to parliament of a controversial anti-homosexuality bill which calls for the death penalty for those convicted of repeated same-sex relations, and life imprisonment for others.

Inspired at least in part by a group of US evangelicals with close links to Uganda, the bill was heavily promoted by a few preachers and politicians. Its progress through parliament was stalled after an international outcry, though it has not been scrapped.

Gay activists in Uganda say the proposed legislation has fuelled hate speech and created a climate of fear among homosexuals. The media has played a strong role in this.

The widely read tabloid Red Pepper has previously "outed" dozens of gay people under headlines such as "Top Homos in Uganda named". But the Rolling Stone story appears to incite people to violence against gays.

On the front page, the paper claims that the homosexual community aims to "recruit 1,000,000 children by 2012", and that parents "face heart-breaks (sic) as homos raids schools". Inside, a headline reads: "Hang them; They are after our kids!!". The article lists personal details of those named, including their addresses.

Giles Muhame, managing editor of the paper, defended the story, saying it was his duty as a journalist to "expose the evil in our society".

"Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda but nobody is taking action against these people," he told the Guardian. "They are recruiting new members among our kids, and destroying the moral fabric of our country."

Asked about the headline that urged hanging, he said: "Other countries have capital punishment to stop drug traffickers; we should have the same for homosexuals."

Frank Mugisha, the chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said his organisation initially chose to ignore the story, since the newspaper was not widely read. It was launched in August and has a circulation of 2,000.

But after a few days he started to receive reports of harassment. In the worst case, a woman who works for a gay rights organisation was unable to leave her home after it was stoned. She was eventually moved to a safe location, Mugisha said.

"We didn't want to give the newspaper publicity so we held off on legal action," Mugisha said. "But now the threat against our members is real, so we are considering going to court."

Uganda's media council has since suspended Rolling Stone, but only because it was not registered. The editors say they have now fulfilled all the legal requirements, and will resume publishing – and further exposing the gay community – next week.

Photograph: AP