In a landmark statement, Uganda’s government has said gay people are now free to meet.
Responding to growing international criticism of the anti-gay efforts in the African country, the government says it does not discriminate against people ‘of a different sexual orientation’.
The statement says: ‘No government official is supposed to harass any section of the community and everybody in Uganda enjoys the freedom to lawfully assemble and associate freely with others.’
The statement is signed by Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo who plans to ban 38 pro-gay groups which he claims promotes homosexuality.
He said: ‘'I have got a record of meetings that they have held to empower, enhance and recruit homosexuals.’
This is the first time the country’s government has appeared to recognize the rights of gay people, a place where most homosexuals remain closeted for fear of attacks.
Prominent gay activist Frank Mugisha told the Associated Press: ‘I think we’ve really challenged Lokodo now, as this statement shows. He’s facing the pressure.’
According to reports, the statement followed a meeting in which Lokodo was told to tone down his anti-gay rhetoric, due to the increasing international news coverage.
Lokodo is now the subject of a court case brought forward by lawyers and activists, who say he violated the right of Ugandans to assemble when he had police break up a gay meeting in February.
Just this week, Lokodo and the police were accused of disrupting another gay meeting in Kampala, an act condemned by groups including Amnesty International.
‘We are seeking a declaration that his acts were illegal,’ said Francis Onyango, the lawyer who filed the case on behalf of Uganda's gay community.
Male and female homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and it was reported on 11 June that Catholic bishops had called for a revival of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which proposes the execution of gays in the African country.