Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ laws, his spokesperson said on Monday, defying international condemnations and the risk of sanctions from donors.
Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as they are in more than 30 African countries, but the new law goes further in targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
It imposes the death penalty for so-called aggravated homosexuality, which includes having gay sex when HIV-positive, and a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality.
Museveni’s signing of the bill was first announced by parliament speaker Anita Among on Twitter.
“If the speaker has announced, then that’s true he has signed,” Museveni’s spokesperson Faruk Kirunda told Reuters.
Authorities have acknowledged that Uganda, which receives billions of dollars in foreign aid each year, could face sanctions over the legislation.
When Museveni signed a less restrictive anti-LGBTQ law in 2014, Western governments suspended some aid, imposed visa restrictions and curtailed security cooperation.
That law was nullified within months by a domestic court on procedural grounds.
Last month, the US government said it was assessing the implications of the new legislation for activities in Uganda under its flagship HIV/AIDS programme.
The European Union, United Nations and dozens of international corporations also condemned the legislation.
Museveni and other political leaders have urged lawmakers to resist outside pressure.
“With a lot of humility, I thank my colleagues the Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure from bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists in the interest of our country,” parliament speaker Among said in her statement.
Passage of the bill in March sent fear rippling through Uganda’s LGBTQ community. Many closed down social media accounts and fled their homes for safe houses.
Others are looking to leave Uganda entirely.
“The Ugandan president has today legalised state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia,” said Clare Byarugaba, a Ugandan rights activist. “It’s a very dark and sad day for the LGBTIQ community, our allies and all of Uganda.”
Activists have vowed to challenge the law in court.
Museveni, a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights, had sent the original bill, which parliament passed in March, back to lawmakers, asking that they tone down certain provisions.
On May 2, parliament passed a revised bill that made minor amendments while leaving most of the original legislation intact.
The amended version stipulated that merely identifying as LGBTQ is not a crime and revised a measure that obliged people to report homosexual activity to only require reporting when a child is involved.
A coalition of international companies, including Google, criticised the legislation, warning it would put those with operations in Uganda in an impossible position and hurt the country’s economy.
Since the original bill’s passage in March, lawmakers in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania have called for similar measures in their countries.