A Ugandan gay rights activist who late last year was pictured and named in a homophobic tabloid has been murdered at his home outside Kampala, his lawyer told AFP Thursday.
David Kato, 43, was an activist with Sexual Minorities Uganda who was pictured and named by the anti-gay tabloid Rolling Stone — no relation to the US magazine of the same name — in a story that called on readers to “hang” gay rights advocates.
“This happened yesterday (Wednesday) at about 13:00,” said lawyer John Francis Onyango, referring to Kato’s killing.
Onyango said initial reports indicate a man entered Kato’s home and struck him on the head before fleeing and that police were focusing on two potential suspects.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Kato died on his way to a local hospital.
The New York-based rights group called on Uganda’s police to “urgently and impartially investigate the killing.”
“The government should ensure that members of Uganda’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender community have adequate protection from violence and take prompt action against all threats or hate speech likely to incite violence,” HRW further said.
After being identified in the October 2010 tabloid article, which accused gay rights leaders of “recruiting” Uganda’s youth into homosexuality, Kato and two others successfully sued the paper for damages and secured a high court injunction blocking all media from outing gays.
Kato was also a vocal critic of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which, if enacted, would massively expand the list of prosecutable offences related to being gay and usher in the death sentence for acts of “aggravated homosexuality.”
Currently, the country’s penal code, like that of many African countries bans “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” An attempt to commit a homosexual act can be punishable by seven years in jail. A conviction for actually committing such an act can bring a life sentence.
Few countries in the region however, have tried to push through legislation as repressive as the bill Uganda wants to enact.
Many activists say the Ugandans pushing for tougher anti-gay measures have been influenced by homophobic evangelical pastors from the United States.
HRW Uganda researcher Maria Burnett said the bill, which has not yet been debated in parliament, should be withdrawn.
“President Yoweri Museveni should categorically reject the hate that lies behind this bill, and instead encourage tolerance of divergent views of sexuality and protect vulnerable minorities.”
US President Barack Obama last year called the draft bill “odious”.
Rolling Stone, founded very recently by university graduates, appears only infrequently.
Other Ugandan tabloids have over the past several years sporadically published similar articles listing the name and picture, and in some cases the place of residence of homosexuals.