A 20-year-old man has become the first Ugandan to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” – an offence punishable by death under the country’s recently enacted anti-gay law.
The defendant was charged on August 18 with aggravated homosexuality after he “performed unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 41-year-old man. The charge sheet did not specify why the act was considered aggravated.
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“Since it is a capital offence triable by the High Court, the charge was read out and explained to him in the Magistrate’s Court on [the] 18th and he was remanded,” said Jacqueline Okui, spokesperson for the office of the director of public prosecutions.
Okui did not provide additional details about the case. She said she was not aware of anyone else having been previously charged with aggravated homosexuality.
Justine Balya, a lawyer for the defendant, said she believed the entire law was unconstitutional. The law has been challenged in court, but the judges have not yet taken up the case.
Defying pressure from Western governments and rights organisations, Uganda in May enacted one of the world’s harshest laws targeting the LGBTQ community.
The legislation has been condemned by rights groups and other campaigners. A group of UN experts described the law as “an egregious violation of human rights”, while Amnesty International called it “draconian and overly broad”.
It prescribes life in prison for same-sex intercourse. The death penalty can apply in cases deemed “aggravated”, which include repeat offences, gay sex that transmits terminal illness, or same-sex intercourse with a minor, an elderly person or a person with disabilities.
Balya said four other people have been charged under the law since its enactment and her client was the first to be prosecuted for aggravated homosexuality. She declined to comment on the specifics of his case.
Uganda has not executed anyone in about 20 years, but capital punishment has not been abolished and President Yoweri Museveni threatened in 2018 to resume executions to stop a wave of crime.
The law’s enactment three months ago drew widespread condemnation and threats of sanctions. Earlier this month, the World Bank suspended new public financing to Uganda in response to the law.
Homosexuality is criminalised in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.