By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni may resume signing off on death sentences after a long hiatus to help stem a wave of crime, he said on Twitter in comments that were quickly denounced by rights activists opposed to capital punishment.
Death remains the maximum sentence in Uganda for a range of crimes including murder, treason and defilement, but no executions have taken place since 1999. A prisons service spokesman said there are currently 278 inmates on death row.
In a tweet on Thursday Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, said he had been reluctant to sign off on death sentences because of his "Christian background".
"But being lenient is causing people to think they can cause harm and get away with it. I will revise my position," he said.
Ugandans have complained of a surge in crime in recent years, especially around the capital Kampala in central Uganda.
A series of gruesome but still unsolved murders last year of women whose bodies were dumped on roadsides in a wide area south of Kampala was widely covered in the media, as were machete attacks at New Year that killed five people in rural locations.
Government critics often accuse Uganda's police of directing their efforts at pursuing Museveni's political opponents rather than fighting crime, for which conviction rates are low.
Museveni, 73, is set to run for another term as president in 2021 after parliament last month scrapped a constitutional age limit of 75 years. The opposition and other critics say that amendment effectively allows him to rule for life.
Nicholas Opiyo of rights organisation Chapter Four said he felt Museveni was unlikely to resume assenting to executions, and described his tweet as "political talk" to divert attention from the constitutional amendment, which fuelled public anger.
"The death penalty is not reformative, it's revenge killing by the state ... the death penalty is not a deterrent," Opiyo said.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Catherine Evans)