KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Hundreds of people held an anti-homosexual demonstration in Uganda’s capital yesterday, denouncing what they called an “immoral” lifestyle and demanding the deportation of an American journalist writing about homosexual rights in the deeply conservative country.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, as it is in most other African states, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The protest yesterday was the latest in a series of showdowns between religious conservatives and a small but growing homosexual rights movement across the continent.
The protesters gathered at a Kampala sports ground. They held banners with anti-homosexual messages and posters demanding the deportation of Katherine Roubos, 22.
Miss Roubos, from Minnetonka, Minn., was assigned to cover homosexual issues in Uganda as part of a three-month internship with the Daily Monitor newspaper, which is owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims. The Ismailis are a part of the Shi’ite community.
Last week, Miss Roubos covered a press conference in Kampala in which Uganda’s homosexual community spoke out publicly for the first time. The participants wore masks to hide their identities for fear of recrimination, but asked for Ugandans to respect their rights and allow them to live in dignity.
Demonstrators at yesterday’s event, organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and Bahai groups, accused Miss Roubos of advocating for homosexual rights in the country. The coalition said it was writing a protest letter to the Aga Khan.
The Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity, Nsaba Buturo, attended the protest and said the government supported the enforcement of existing laws against homosexuality.
“We people of Uganda have values. If this lady cannot respect them then she had better be deported,” said Eddie Semakula, a member of the coalition. “She is advocating for the rights of homosexuals in a paper that is read by children even. We must protect our children.”
The Monitor defended Miss Roubos’ “reliable and enterprising” reporting. Her editor, Moses Sserwanga, said the issue of homosexual rights was tied with larger debates over traditional culture, individual freedoms and human rights in Uganda.
“On the one hand the constitution forbids homosexual behavior and yet on the other it promotes individual freedoms,” he said. “Our society is very conservative, so we knew this reaction would come out. I wanted the story to address the contradictions in our constitution.”