A leading Ugandan activist has been recognised as a “hero of the year” by a campaigning British organisation after battling anti-gay laws in the country despite threats to his life.
Stonewall, a nonprofit British organisation, campaigns for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
Receiving the award, Pepe Julian Onziema thanked supporters for continuing to keep the spotlight on the plight of gay people in Uganda.
“This … recognition keeps us on the map. It means that people are still keeping an eye on what is happening in Uganda and on the work we do. It is a boost for activists working in the country who do not want to leave.”
Onziema, who receives regular death threats, added that the high-profile award would also give him “some form of personal security because the international community is aware of what we are doing”.
Ruth Hunt, chief executive of Stonewall, said of Onziema, who campaigns with Sexual Minorities Uganda: “Pepe is an icon who inspires and influences so many people – not just those in his home country of Uganda, but all those fighting for equality around the globe.”
In December last year, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, previously referred to as the “Kill the Gays” Bill because it originally called for the death penalty for “convicted” homosexuals. It was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni in February. But the law, which made it illegal “to promote homosexuality” and obliged Ugandans to denounce gay people to the authorities, was overturned on a technicality in the Constitutional Court in August.
The government has filed an appeal and MPs have signed a petition for a new vote.
Onziema warned that the law was likely to be resurrected, with politicians using homophobia to rally votes ahead of elections in 2016.
“Of course we were pleased that the law was overturned, but the main substance of our petition – to discuss rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – was not addressed, and it allowed the rest of society to believe that the government had actually given the people rights, which is not the case,” he said.
Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda, punishable by a 14-year jail sentence. – © Guardian News & Media 2014