Ugandan activist murdered after suing anti-gay tabloid

 

ONE OF Uganda’s most prominent gay rights activists has been murdered, weeks after winning a court case against a newspaper that called for gays to be hanged.

David Kato, the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda, was beaten to death at his home in Kampala on Wednesday. Police reported that one man was seen fleeing the scene.

“Witnesses told police that a man entered Kato’s home in Mukono at around 1pm . . . hit him twice in the head and departed in a vehicle,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Kato died on his way to Kawolo hospital. Police told Kato’s lawyer that they had the registration number of the vehicle and were looking for it.”

Gay rights activists in the country said they suspect his death is connected to the publication of his name, photograph and address in Uganda’s Rolling Stonenewspaper late last year, in an article under the headlines, “100 pictures of Uganda’s top homos leak” and “Hang them”. His photo was published on the front page.

“David has received several death threats over the past three weeks,” said Brian Nkoyooyo, director of Icebreakers Uganda.

“We suspect it is connected to Rolling Stoneand the case that Kato won, although that has not yet been confirmed.”

Kato, along with two others, decided to sue Rolling Stonefor damages, with each winning 1.5 million Ugandan shillings on January 3rd at the High Court in Kampala, where a permanent injunction was granted prohibiting the further publication of the identities and addresses of homosexuals in the newspaper.

However, the editor of Rolling Stonedenied that his publication had anything to do with the murder. “ Rolling Stoneis not responsible,” Giles Muhame told The Irish Times.

“Blaming us would be a grave mistake and diversionary. We called on the government to hang people convicted of homosexual acts, not for people to pick up stones and attack them. There are a lot of attacks on people with iron bars in the area where David Kato lived. It could have been an attack like any other crime. We pray for his soul and hope the culprit is found and held responsible.”

One Ugandan gay rights activist, who declined to be named, branded Muhame’s statement as “sickening”.

Human Rights Groups condemned the killing. “David Kato was a deeply dedicated and courageous human rights activist,” said Alli Jernow, senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists. “He was also a warm and thoughtful soul. He will be deeply missed.”

Amnesty International said it was “appalled” by the killing, and called for the authorities to become more proactive in defending the gay community.

“It is deeply worrying that the Ugandan government has been so conspicuously silent about discriminatory rhetoric against LGBTI people in Uganda. Now more than ever is the time for the authorities to reassure Ugandans that it will protect them against threats and violence regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Ugandan society, like most other countries in Africa, is in general homophobic. However, there has been an increase in anti-gay sentiment since 2009, when US evangelical preachers began holding anti-gay rallies in the country.

An anti-homosexuality Bill was tabled before parliament by the MP David Bahati. Repeat offenders would face the death penalty while Ugandans would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face prosecution themselves. After a storm of international criticism, it appears to have been quietly shelved.

Mr Kato was one of the most outspoken activists against the Bill.