Proposed bill targeting gay Ugandans with 10 years in jail is not yet law

Online posts circulating in Uganda claim President Yoweri Museveni has signed a new anti-gay law that will hand life imprisonment to individuals convicted of practising homosexuality in the East African nation. The claim is false; a new bill that could see convicted people face up to 10 years in prison – but not life imprisonment – was tabled in parliament on March 9, 2023, and is still in the early stages of the legislative process.

On February 28, 2023, Uganda’s parliamentary Speaker Annet Anita Among announced plans to introduce legislation forbidding gay relationships.

Among posted a video clip on Twitter, writing: “I pledged to the Country that a Bill will be introduced as soon as possible to deal with Homosexuality and lesbianism. We shall Jealously protect our cherished values and culture (sic).”

On the same day, this Facebook post claimed Museveni had signed an anti-gay bill into law with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

A screenshot of the false post, taken on March 9, 2023

The same claim had been shared two days earlier on a Kenyan Facebook page called “Meru Daily News” in the form of a graphic featuring Museveni’s image.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken on March 9, 2023

The claim has since recirculated multiple times with some commenters praising the Ugandan leader and urging other African leaders to emulate Museveni’s homophobic stance (see here, here, and here).

“We need more of these kinda presidents in Africa (sic),” one comment reads.

The same claim was repeated in this TikTok video with more than 200,000 views.

In recent weeks, homophobic sentiments have come to the forefront of politics in east African countries.

In Kenya, for instance, politicians including President William Ruto have come out to denounce homosexuality, saying it will “happen in other countries but not in Kenya”.

The uproar in Kenya follows a Supreme Court ruling that allowed the LGBTQ+ community to register lobby groups. The judgement noted a previous ruling by a lower court had infringed on their constitutional right to association.

Other Facebook posts shared an old video report by local television station NTV Uganda from when Museveni signed a similar bill into law in 2014, implying it was recent (see here and here).

“Yoweri Museveni—Uganda president. Passes anti-gay bill into law. Legend,” one caption reads.

A screenshot of one the misleading Facebook posts using footage from 2014, taken on March 9, 2023

Old law

In 2014, a Ugandan court struck down a bill passed by MPs and signed by Museveni that sought to impose life imprisonment on people in gay relationships.

The bill had prompted global outrage, with some donor nations cutting aid to the country following its passage through parliament.

Uganda has seen a surge in online conspiracy theories conflating child sexual abuse at Ugandan boarding schools with consensual same-sex acts between adults.

Last month, Uganda's government set up a committee to investigate the alleged “promotion” of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights in schools.

Bill in initial stages

However, there is still no new official anti-gay law in Uganda.

On March 9, 2023, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 was presented in parliament for its first reading.

While it is unclear how long the parliamentary process could take, the bill is several steps away from being adopted into law.

According to the bill, a person who practices homosexuality or “commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality” shall be liable to imprisonment for up to ten years.

Uganda is notorious for intolerance of homosexuality — which is criminalised under colonial-era laws — and strict Christian views on sexuality in general.

But since independence from Britain in 1962, there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.