Ugandan paper calls for gay people to be hanged

Publication Date: 
October 21, 2010
The Guardian
Source: AP

Human rights activists have warned that the lives of gay people in are in danger, after a newspaper published a story featuring the names and in some cases photographs of 100 homosexuals under the headline "Hang Them".

At least one woman named in the story has been forced to leave her home after neighbours pelted it with stones, while several other people have been verbally abused, according to the campaign group .

Stosh Mugisha, who works for an organisation helping gay people with HIV, said that she was sitting in an internet cafe soon after the article appeared when people suddenly started pointing at her. "I knew I had to leave, so I made my way home. I stopped to buy cigarettes at my usual shop, but the woman said, 'No, no, you are homosexual.' I went inside my house and boys who used to be my friends started throwing stones at the gate. I could not believe it – I thought it was a joke. Luckily I managed to escape."

Mugisha said that since the story appeared her family had turned against her. She is now living in a different house.

The in the Rolling Stone newspaper, a new weekly title started by journalism graduates from Makerere University in Kampala. Its publication came just days before the first anniversary of the introduction to parliament of a that 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 legislation has fuelled hate speech and created a climate of fear among homosexuals. The media have played a strong role in this. The widely read tabloid Red Pepper has already "outed" dozens of gay people under headlines such as "". But the Rolling Stone story goes further in apparently inciting violence against gay people.

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. There are also photographs of about a dozen people listed in the story.

Giles Muhame, managing editor of Rolling Stone, who worked for Red Pepper during his recently completed studies, defended the article, 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."

Many in the anti-gay lobby in Uganda use the "recruitment" allegation, and President Yoweri Museveni even claimed in a speech this year that such "recruitment" was taking place. No evidence has been presented to support the assertion.

Frank Mugisha, chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said his organisation initially chose to ignore the Rolling Stone 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 from some of those who were named. In the worst case, a woman who works for a 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," he said. "But now the threat against our members is real, so we are considering going to court."

Following the publication of the article, Uganda's media council warned Rolling Stone that it had contravened the law. But Paul Mukasa, the council secretary, said the offence related to the paper's initial registration rather than its content. He said that the editors were addressing the problem, and would soon be free to publish again.

Regarding the story that has led to the harassment, Mukasa said a formal complaint needed to be made by a member of the public before the media council launched an investigation. This had not yet happened, he said. "If we receive complaints, we will subject this story to scrutiny, and see if it violates any of our laws or the ethics of journalism. We are not ruling out any action."

Muhame, Rolling Stone's managing editor, said he was confident that the newspaper would hit the streets again next week. It will feature more photos of homosexuals, he said.