April 2023 | Museveni rejects Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign into law a controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was returned to Uganda’s parliament for amendment on 20 April. In a letter to Parliament explaining his reasons for returning the Bill, Museveni argued that the law should distinguish between homosexual acts and the promotion of homosexuality (which it should criminalise) and identifying as a homosexual (which it should not criminalise). He also requested that the Bill include a clause providing amnesty and ‘rehabilitation’ for ‘those who have previously been involved in acts of homosexuality’. Commentators have interpreted the letter as an attempt by the President to tone down the legislation, which has been heavily criticised by the international community. In its current form, the Bill would expand the restrictions on the civil liberties of LGBTQIA+ persons and the ability of civil society organisations to work on LGBTQIA+ issues.
March 2023 | Parliament passes bill that would further restrict LGBTQIA+ rights
On 21 March, Ugandan parliamentarians voted almost unanimously (389 to two) to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023, a piece of legislation, which if signed into law, would further restrict the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people in the country. While the rights of this community are already severely constrained under Ugandan law (e.g. same sex-sexual relations are illegal and LGBTQIA+ rights groups are prevented from registering with the state), the Bill would expand these restrictions in important respects. It would, for example, criminalise identifying as an LGBTQIA+ person and ‘promoting homosexuality’, which would likely include advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights and financially supporting such advocacy and so could have significant implications for civil society engagement. These crimes would be punishable with lengthy prison sentences. The version of the Bill amended on 21 March (yet to be published) also includes the death penalty for the crime of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (where same-sex relations are carried out in one of a select list of ‘aggravating’ circumstances, e.g. where the offender is a serial offender or the victim is under 18). President Yoweri Museveni has 30 days to assent or reject the legislation.
January 2023 | Constitutional court strikes down law curtailing free speech
On 10 January Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down a section of a law that rights groups say has been repeatedly abused by authorities to silence government critics, including journalists and activists. In vague and broad terms, section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act criminalised ‘Offensive Communication,’ which it defined as the use of electronic communication to ‘disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication.’ In a unanimous judgment, the Court found the provisions to be unconstitutional, ruling that they unjustifiably curtailed the right to freedom of expression. Rights groups have welcomed the ruling but caution that free speech in Uganda continues to be threatened by other provisions within the Act, including amendments made in October 2022.
October 2022 | President Museveni signs law further curtailing freedom of expression online
On 13 October Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that rights and media organizations have said further restricts freedom of expression online and is likely to be weaponized against journalists and government critics. In vaguely worded terms, the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022 criminalizes “hate speech” and the sharing of “unsolicited information”. Those convicted under the law face prison sentences of up to seven years, fines of up to 15 million Ugandan shillings and (significantly for political opponents) are barred from holding public office for up to 10 years. Non-governmental organizations, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, noted that prior to this amendment, pre-existing provisions within the Computer Misuse Act 2011 have been used by Museveni’s government to prosecute its critics and journalists.