Uganda Newspaper Under Fire For Outing Gays, Inciting Violence

Gay activists say that a number of people have been attacked in Uganda in the wake of a newspaper's publication of what it says are names and pictures of 100 of the country's gay and lesbian population. Uganda's Rolling Stone newspaper (not associated with the American magazine) made a name for itself October 9th with a banner that read "hang them." Host Michel Martin speaks with Frank Mugisha, of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, about the impact of the newspapers' story and photographs as well as the attitudes toward gay and lesbian Ugandans in a country where homosexual acts are against the law.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we go to Uganda, the east African country where homosexual acts are illegal. Recently a local newspaper published a list of names and photographs of men and women whom the editor believes to be gay. This opened the people on the list to prosecution that could lead up to 14 years in jail. The newspaper's a new publication called Rolling Stone. It has no connection to the Rolling Stone newspaper in this country.

The Ugandan government has since shut down the newspaper saying that the paper had not been registered. But many activists are concerned about repercussions from this article for people who are gay and lesbian or are perceived to be in Uganda.

So to talk more about that, we've called Frank Mugisha. He's the director of a group called Sexual Minorities Uganda. And it advocates for the rights of people in same gender relationships in Uganda. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. FRANK MUGISHA (Director, Sexual Minorities Uganda): Thank you so much for calling me.

MARTIN: And Mr. Mugisha, could you just tell us about - initially, as I understand it, the reaction to this paper wasn't that strong since it has very small publication, it's not, you know, well known. What happened then?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, the initial response was that we thought this was a very small paper that has got a very small readership. But then again, looking at Uganda and looking at the city, Kampala, it's not - that's very big. So we knew that the impact is going to be huge because we're not - the story was big and any person who wants to read about that story.

MARTIN: And have there been repercussions? Have people been harassed as a result of this?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, almost every person who was named and whose picture appeared in the paper has been harassed already. I personally have received threats from people around the area where I live, who are pointing fingers at me and have thrown all sorts of vulgar insults at me because my name did appear in the paper.

MARTIN: Now, let me say that we reached out to the editor of this paper, Giles Muhame. We reached him just a few minutes before we reached you. We asked him, why did you publish the names? And I'll just play you the clip of what he said. And you can respond to it. Here's what he had to say.

Mr. GILES MUHAME (Editor, Rolling Stone, Uganda): The story was in public interest. Homosexuals in Uganda is spreading like wildfire. And the country is silent. Church leaders are quiet. The government is quiet. The politicians are quiet. And, yes, homosexuality is illegal in Uganda.

MARTIN: Is this a widespread view in Uganda right now?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, I would say Uganda already has a lot of homophobia and then also I would say that he is not right when he says that politicians are quiet. We all know that recently a politician and a member of the Ugandan parliament tried to introduce a legislation that will increase tougher laws on homosexuals in Uganda. So he should just start to say that he's joining the other anti-gay groups in Uganda.

MARTIN: Just to add some additional background for those who may not be aware, last year we spoke to another member of your group about a piece of legislation introduced into the parliament in Uganda that would expand the range of criminal penalties for homosexuality. The bill calls for imposing the death penalty for same sex acts by some people, those who are HIV positive, for example. And it also calls for people to report those who they believe to be homosexual to authorities. What is the status of this legislation now? Is it moving forward?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, because of the work was done with international human rights organizations, the law has froze in parliament. The law has been shelved. The law hasn't been - the law has only one hearing in our parliament here in Uganda and nothing has been heard from parliament about the law up to now.

MARTIN: Can I ask you how you feel? Do you feel unsafe now? Are you able to go about the city doing your work or do you feel you have to be - remain behind closed doors now?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, I feel very insecure. I feel very threatened at this moment. I feel very unsafe because I do not know who has read this paper. And I mean, this paper calls for stronger sanctions, calls for hanging of homosexuals. It calls for killing of homosexuals.

I mean, I don't know who is going to be out there and say, this is a person, this is a person named in the media, let me kill him. This is a person named in the media, let me hang him. So I don't know who is going to act anything. But, again, I'm strong, that I have to keep my head up. I have to keep fighting. I have to keep moving. I have to keep finding ways of trying to stop that kind of media from appearing in Ugandan public, I guess.

MARTIN: What are you going to do now? What are you and the other activists going to do now?

Mr. MUGISHA: Well, we are still going to ask for the arm of law. We are still going to seek the protection of the petition of Uganda. We are still going to use the politician of Uganda say that kind of media is not allowed to appear on the Ugandan streets. We are going to also try to seek all the remedies from the court of law that that kind of media does not appear again on the Ugandan streets.

MARTIN: That was Frank Mugisha. He is with the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. It's a group that advocates for the rights, as you might imagine, of minorities in Uganda. And he spoke with us from the capital of Kampala. Thank you so much again for speaking with us.

Mr. MUGISHA: You're welcome.

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