KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's president opposes an anti-gay bill passed by lawmakers that calls for life imprisonment for gays, even as he characterizes homosexuals as "abnormal" people who should be rehabilitated, according to excerpts of his letter to the speaker of parliament.
President Yoweri Museveni's opposition to the bill comes despite pressure from evangelicals as well from lawmakers from his own party.
But Frank Mugisha, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, said gays are not celebrating the president's words that were published Friday in Kampala's Daily Monitor newspaper, noting that his characterization of gays "creates more hatred" of them.
In his letter to parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga, written days after lawmakers passed the bill by acclamation in December, Museveni called for the bill to be revised and wondered what to do "with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?"
Museveni has previously warned of serious consequences for Uganda's foreign relations if a bill proposing severe punishment for gays is passed. Some European countries have threatened to cut development assistance to Uganda if the bill becomes law.
Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer and independent political analyst, said Museveni is simply trying to "spread the blame" for a bill that is "unstoppable." Under the country's constitution, the bill will become law if parliament approves it with a two-thirds majority, which the lawmakers are now likely to do without any revisions.
"Museveni will say that 'I tried my best and the members of parliament have refused,' " he said. "He's looking for where to place the blame."
Ugandan anti-gay activists accuse Western homosexuals of "recruiting" impoverished Ugandan children, and Museveni addressed this concern in his letter.
"We should legislate harshly against those people with money, from within and from without, who take advantage of the desperation of our youth to lure them into these abnormal and deviant behaviors," Museveni wrote, adding that he would support a life sentence for those who "lure normal youth" into homosexual acts.
Museveni called for improving the economy so that the youth have better jobs and are better positioned to reject offers of money for sex with Western homosexuals.
Sarah Kagingo, a spokeswoman for the presidency, confirmed that Museveni wrote the letter and said he genuinely believes "the way forward is rehabilitation" for gays.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalizes acts "against the order of nature."
Museveni's rejection of the bill comes as some African countries are toughening anti-gay laws. In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 7 signed a law making it illegal for gay people to even hold a meeting. The Nigerian law criminalizes gay marriage, homosexual clubs, associations and organizations, with penalties of up to 14 years in jail.
The original bill in Uganda, first introduced in 2009, proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. That provision was later removed amid international pressure. A committee of lawmakers later recommended life imprisonment as the maximum penalty, reasoning in its report that "the death sentence, if executed, does not make the offender feel the punishment for his actions."
The legislation that Museveni wants revised set life imprisonment as the penalty for gay sex involving an HIV-infected person, acts with minors and the disabled, as well as repeated sex offenses among consenting adults.
The bill was highly popular among lawmakers and evangelical pastors who say a tough new law will deter Western homosexuals they accuse of "recruiting" Ugandan children to become gay.
But Ugandan gays say the country's political and religious leaders were influenced by American evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay campaign in Africa. A Ugandan gay rights group in March 2012 sued Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical, under the Alien Tort Statute that allows non-citizens to file suit in the United States if there is an alleged violation of international law. A U.S. federal judge ruled in August that the case could proceed, saying systematic persecution on the basis of sexual orientation violates international norms.