Human rights supporters in Uganda have expressed their horror at the murder of David Kato, a leading gay rights activist. He had continued his campaigns despite death threats and was found dead in his house on Wednesday (26 January).
Kato won a court case earlier this month against Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper after it called for him, and other gay Ugandans, to be hanged.
Sexual activity between people of the same sex is illegal in Uganda. The government and police are frequently accused of encouraging or ignoring acts of homophobic violence and abuse.
Kato worked as Advocacy Officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), which has spoken out despite intimidation. He had been campaigning on gay rights since 1998.
The murder has been condemned around the world. Amnesty Internatnional and Human Rights Watch have urged the Ugandan authorities to ensure that the crime is properly investigated. The Ugandan police have drawn criticism for suggesting that the murder was motivated by robbery and had nothing to do with Kato’s sexuality.
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, speaking from the UK, described Kato as an “inspiring campaigner of long and great commitment”.
He said, "David will live on in our memories. He will also live on through the rights and equalities that LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] Ugandans will win eventually thanks to his many years of tireless groundwork and campaigning.”
Tatchell expressed his admiration for all members of SMUG, saying they were working with courage in “conditions of great adversity and danger”.
The Ugandan government has drawn international condemnation since 2009 over their backing for an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that has not yet been passed. It would introduce the death penalty for a second “offence” of homosexuality and imprison parents, teachers or clergy who failed to report cases of homosexuality they come across.
Ugandan Christians have been split in their approach to the Bill, with several Anglican bishops substantially supporting it.
Internationally, a range of churches and Christian groups have condemned the Bill, including several which say they object to same-sex relations but oppose persecution. But it has also received support and encouragement from the extremist wings of socially conservative Christian movements in the US.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams spoke out against the Bill following heavy criticism for his initial silence about it. Over 3,000 people had signed a petition urging him to condemn the Bill.
Tatchell said today that he hoped Kato’s murder would “prompt Uganda's political, religious and media leaders to cease their homophobic witchhunts”.
He added, “Their hatred helps create the bigoted atmosphere that leads to queer-bashing violence. I urge the government of Uganda to withdraw the 'kill the gays' Anti-Homosexuality Bill, decriminalise same-sex relations and legislate protection for LGBTI people against discrimination and hate crimes.”