Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Uganda gay bill 'will be changed'

A gay activist in Uganda wearing a mask (photo: Katherine Elaine Roubos)
Gay rights activists say they have been living in fear since the bill was tabled

Uganda's controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill is likely to be changed, a minister has told the BBC.

However, Deputy Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem did not give details of how he thought the final bill would be different to the current proposals.

Uganda has come under intense international pressure over the bill, which provides for the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Mr Oryem was speaking after US leader Barack Obama called the bill "odious".

It has also been condemned by various European countries.

Death penalty
For "serial offenders", HIV-positive "offenders", or those engaging in homosexual activity with a minor or disabled person
Life in prison
For homosexual acts
Seven years in prison
For helping, counselling, or encouraging a person to engage in a homosexual act

"I am sure the bill will take a different form when it is tabled on the floor in parliament," Mr Oryem told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

However, he also pointed out that it was a Private Member's Bill and so the government did not have the powers to alter it at this stage.

"Homosexuality is not a top priority for the people of Uganda," he deputy minister said.

"Our priority is to make sure there is food on the table of our people - that we deal with the issue of disease."

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The bill would raise that penalty to life in prison.

It also proposes the death penalty for a new offence of "aggravated homosexuality" - defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a "serial offender".

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has already distanced himself from the bill, saying it did not represent the views of his government.

Two weeks ago its sponsor, David Bahati, told a Ugandan newspaper he was willing to "amend some clauses".

The cabinet has set up a committee to look at his proposals.


Controversy over homosexuality is not new in Uganda.

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