By Riches Soberekon
A 20-year-old Ugandan man has been charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” a crime that carries the possibility of capital punishment, according to prosecutors and the defendant’s legal counsel.
Uganda recently enacted strict anti-gay legislation, despite international pressure and criticism from Western governments and human rights organizations.
The new law imposes a sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same-sex relations.
In cases considered “aggravated,” such as repeated offenses, transmission of terminal illnesses through same-sex acts, or engaging in such acts with vulnerable individuals, the death penalty can be imposed.
The accused was formally charged with aggravated homosexuality on August 18 after allegedly engaging in “illicit sexual activity” with a 41-year-old man. The specific details that led to the classification as “aggravated” were not explicitly outlined.
Jacqueline Okui, spokesperson for the office of the director of public prosecutions, confirmed that the defendant was informed of the capital charge in a Magistrate’s Court on August 18, as the charge falls under the jurisdiction of the High Court.
The defendant has been remanded, but no further information about the ongoing case has been provided. Okui stated that there have been no previous instances of aggravated homosexuality charges to her knowledge.
Attorney Justine Balya, representing the defendant, believes that the entire law is unconstitutional. Legal challenges have been initiated, but the judiciary has yet to address the matter. Balya indicated that her client is the first case of prosecution for aggravated homosexuality and declined to provide specific details about the case.
Although Uganda has not implemented capital punishment for nearly two decades, the provision remains in the law. In 2018, President Yoweri Museveni raised the possibility of resuming executions to combat rising criminality.
The recent enactment of the anti-gay law has sparked international criticism and threats of sanctions. The World Bank has suspended new public funding for Uganda, and the United States has imposed visa restrictions on certain Ugandan officials. President Joe Biden has also initiated a review of U.S. assistance to the country.