Ugandan lawmakers draft new anti-gay bill, seek to introduce it before Christmas

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan lawmakers have drafted a new anti-gay bill that could be introduced for debate in the country's parliament before Christmas, a parliamentarian said Thursday.

The new bill is in "advanced stages" and will focus on punishing the promotion of homosexuality, said Ugandan lawmaker Latif Ssebaggala, a strong supporter of anti-gay legislation.

"We believe that before Christmas we will be through with it. It is a strong bill," he said. "The element of promotion was strengthened, putting in place measures against people who lure young people into these sex acts."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said anti-gay legislation threatens the country's economic ties with the West. But there is a growing movement here for new legislation following the nullification earlier this year of an anti-gay law on procedural grounds.

Rights groups had condemned that law as draconian before it was nullified by Uganda's Constitutional Court, which ruled in August that the legislation was illegal because it had been passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum.

But the court did not rule on the substance of the law, which allowed terms of up to life for homosexual offenses. That left the door open for lawmakers to introduce another anti-gay bill, and many legislators have since vowed to pass a new law.

Ssebaggala gave no details of the proposed law, saying he had only been briefed by a committee appointed by Museveni to recommend ways forward concerning homosexuality. That committee is led by Vice President Edward Ssekandi and also includes David Bahati, the lawmaker who introduced the original anti-gay legislation. Bahati was not immediately available for comment.

Uganda's gay leaders say rising anti-gay sentiment in this East African country has driven many homosexuals underground, with scores being evicted by landlords and others fleeing the country.

Ugandan rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, who has defended gay Ugandans in court, said the wording in the new bill was unknown and that any legal action would be taken after the bill's content had been made public. The bill faces a legal challenge if it limits freedom of expression and speech, he said.

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