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For 300 years Britain hanged homosexuals

When President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law, Europe and the United States went into overdrive.

Aid was and continues to be cut. Threats were made if the law was not repealed. Travel bans are to be imposed on those responsible for the law. How can we be so stupid to the extent that we criminalise a human right?

These punitive actions are intended to bring us back to our senses. Now our minister of Foreign Affairs has rushed to America to cool down angry donors. But I think the Americans and Europeans are taking it out on us because of a collective sense of guilt. The anger is not about us. It is an attempt to cleanse a deeply-soiled conscience.

They are struggling to come to terms with their past and we have offered the opportunity for them to look good. In 1533 King Henry VIII signed into law the Buggery Act. The law prohibited all homosexual activities and prescribed the death penalty for contravention. In addition, all property of the convict was confiscated. The heir(s) would inherit nothing.

The death penalty was scrapped in 1861 and replaced with life imprisonment. For over three hundred years, British courts convicted and the government hanged its citizens for male-male sexual activity. A sample of records shows that between 1806 and 1861 alone, 8,921 men were prosecuted for sodomy in Britain. Four hundred and four were sentenced to death.

The first person to be convicted under that law was Walter Hungerford who was beheaded (not hanged) at Tyburn in 1540.The last two were James Pratt and John Smith, both hanged on November 27, 1835.

For attempted sodomy, the prison sentence was severe and included pillory. This sentence consisted of being put on display in a marketplace or crossroads with your head protruding from a piece of wood. People would then gather to taunt, jeer, mock and laugh at the convict. Often he was pelted with rotten food and mud, but sometimes the crowd used stones and bricks ending in the death or maiming of the convict. This sentence was abolished in 1837.

But too many suspects were being acquitted due to difficulties in proving sodomy. Accordingly, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 introduced a new offence called gross indecency. This offence did not require evidence of homosexual activity. Actions such as “lewd” touching between males fell under that offence.

It became easier to prove and punish homosexual activity. Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet, served two years in prison with hard labour (kiboko) for gross indecency. It was not until 1967 that the British government decriminalized sodomy but only for males above 21 years. It remained a crime for those below that age until 2001. From 1533 to 2001 homosexual activities were punished in Britain as a crime.

In my view, this holier-than-thou attitude by the West is nothing but a coverup for a collective sense of guilt. And it is unfair to take it out on Uganda. It does not cleanse their guilt. What is required is for the West to come clean instead of bullying others.

In 2009 Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official apology on behalf of the British government in respect of Alan Turing who was prosecuted in the British courts for homosexuality in 1952. He was given a choice: prison or be chemically castrated. He chose to be castrated. He committed suicide in 1954.

On December 24, 2013, the Queen gave him a posthumus pardon. Today, he is widely recognised as the father of theoretical computer science which is responsible for the technological advances we have made in this century.

But an apology in respect of one man is not enough. The apology should extend to the thousands the British government hanged over a period of 300 years. Their heirs should be compensated for the properties the British government routinely seized.

President Obama and all European leaders should also offer the same apology and reparations. Sodomy was a criminal act punishable by death all over Europe and the United States. It was decriminalised in Netherlands in 1811, Portugal 1852, Italy 1889, Iceland 1940, Switzerland 1940, Sweden 1944, Greece 1951, Ireland 1982, Germany 1994, Romania 1996, Bosnia 1998 and Northern Cyprus 2014. But laws like gross indecency were introduced instead.

The first American state to decriminalise homosexuality was Illinois in 1961, followed by Connecticut in 1969.Florida, both Carolinas, Idaho, Texas and ten other states refused to decriminalise homosexual activities until the Supreme court forced them to do so as recently as 2003.

For Western governments to claim not to understand how we can criminalize homosexuality is the highest level of legal hypocrisy and diplomatic absurdity. To now claim it is a human right, there is need for an explanation as to how they forgot to include it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948.

The offence of sodomy became law in Uganda by virtue of Section 15 (2) of the Uganda Order in Council 1902. By that Order, laws of general application subsisting in Britain automatically become law in Uganda.

Therefore, from 1902 homosexuality was a crime in Uganda carrying a sentence of life imprisonment. It was amended by the Penal Code Act of 1930 by altering the sentence to 14 years with hard labour (kiboko). Attempted sodomy was maintained at seven years. By section 10 of ordinance 21 of 1955, corporal punishment (kiboko) was removed.

That is what the British handed to us on October 9, 1962 and that is what we have religiously followed. The Bahati law simply builds on the British position. Even if the Bahati law is repealed, homosexual activities will continue to be a crime, thanks to the British.

Billions have been poured into this country with a law forbidding homosexuality on our books since independence; so what is new today? Guilt!

What is needed now is not this holier- than-thou attitude but an apology to Uganda for bringing “bad laws” here. Another apology should be rendered to any Ugandan who suffered as a result of the “bad” laws and compensation made. Thereafter, we require an exhaustive explanationas to why values the West held dear for 500 years have now become very bad.

You cannot lead me to do something for over one hundred years and when you change your mind you order me to change mine as well. Patronizing!

Instead of travel restrictions on Bahati and his colleagues, they should be given free visas and their expenses paid to travel to America and Europe and study this subject more deeply. That is how civilized nations ought to behave. Who knows, Bahati may change his mind.

Lastly, there is no consistency. In an interview with NTV last week, the American ambassador, when quizzed why there were no aid cuts when the Public Order Management law came into force, claimed the Act itself was not bad but rather its implementation. I don’t think so and I will be proven right when the Constitutional court strikes that law down. As it surely will do.

The writer is a former politician and veteran advocate.

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