Uganda court scraps new anti-gay legislation
By Emmanuel Leroux-Nega, AFP
August 2, 2014, 12:04 am TWN
KAMPALA, Uganda--Uganda's constitutional court on Friday overturned tough new anti-gay laws that had been branded draconian by rights groups, saying they had been wrongly passed by parliament.
The law is "null and void," the presiding judge told the court, saying the process had contravened the constitution, as it has been passed in parliament in December without the necessary quorum of lawmakers.
"Justice prevailed, we won," said lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who led the challenge in the constitutional court.
The law's supporters said they would appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.
"The retrogressive anti-homosexuality act of Uganda has been struck down by the constitutional court — it's now dead as a door nail," said Andrew Mwenda, one of 10 petitioners.
The law, signed by Uganda's veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, said that homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and obliged Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry likened the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.
But homosexuality in Uganda remains illegal and punishable by jail sentences under previous legislation, which is expected to be returned after the court's decision.
'No longer criminal'
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the law — as it is on paper — remains valid, saying it had been struck down on a matter of procedure and not over its content.
"The ruling has not nullified the anti-homosexuality law, it only ruled on the validity of the procedure in parliament," he said.
But gay rights activists were celebrating.
"I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come," said Kasha Jacqueline, another petitioner and a prominent gay rights activist.
"I am officially legal," said Frank Mugisha, another petitioner, but admitting despite his "celebration mood" the ruling was only the "beginning of a very long battle."
"The law has been struck on technicalities, so the big picture is still there," he said.
Lawmakers could seek to reintroduce a bill back into parliament, a potentially lengthy process, with the last such bill taking four years from introduction to the final vote.
'Law is intact'
David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill — which initially proposed the death penalty as punishment — said he still backed the law.
"It is a setback but not a major one, because the law is intact," he told AFP.
"The law is good for Uganda, no matter what court decides."
Outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa led prayers before the hearing inside the tightly packed courtroom calling for the judges to uphold the law.
Ssempa had already warned he feared the "judicial abortion of our bill" due to international pressure.
"We are determined to appeal this case at the Supreme Court," he said.