KAMPALA, Uganda — A 20-year-old man has become the first Ugandan to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” an offense punishable by death under the country’s recently enacted anti-gay law, prosecutors and his lawyer said.
Defying pressure from Western governments and rights organizations, Uganda in May enacted one of the world’s harshest laws targeting the LGBTQ community.
It prescribes life in prison for same-sex intercourse. The death penalty can apply in cases deemed “aggravated,” which include repeat offenses, gay sex that transmits terminal illness, or same-sex intercourse with a minor, an elderly person or a person with disabilities.
According to a charge sheet seen by Reuters, the defendant was charged on Aug. 18 with aggravated homosexuality after he “performed unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 41-year-old man. It did not specify why the act was considered aggravated.
“Since it is a capital offence triable by the High Court, the charge was read out and explained to him in the Magistrate’s Court on (the) 18th and he was remanded,” Jacqueline Okui, spokesperson for the office of the director of public prosecutions, told Reuters.
Okui did not provide additional details about the case. She said she was not aware of anyone else having been previously charged with aggravated homosexuality.
Justine Balya, an attorney for the defendant, said she believed the entire law was unconstitutional. The law has been challenged in court, but the judges have not yet taken up the case.
Balya said four other people have been charged under the law since its enactment and that her client was the first to be prosecuted for aggravated homosexuality. She declined to comment on the specifics of his case.
Uganda has not executed anyone in around two decades, but capital punishment has not been abolished and President Yoweri Museveni threatened in 2018 to resume executions to stop a wave of crime.
The law’s enactment three months ago drew widespread condemnation and threats of sanctions. Earlier this month, the World Bank suspended new public financing to Uganda in response to the law.
The United States has also imposed visa restrictions on some Ugandan officials, and President Joe Biden ordered a review of U.S. aid to Uganda.