Posts falsely claimed tough anti-gay bill in Uganda had become law by February 2023
A tough anti-gay bill in Uganda has sparked disinformation online. In late February, the country's parliament announced it would introduce legislation handing lengthy jail sentences to people found guilty of homosexuality. Shortly afterwards, online users claimed that President Yoweri Museveni had approved already approved the law. However, at the time of the false claim, the proposed bill had not been tabled yet and was still in the early stages of the legislative process. Uganda's parliament passed the bill on March 21, 2023.
On February 28, 2023, Uganda’s parliamentary speaker Annet Anita Among announced plans to introduce legislation forbidding gay relationships.
Among posted a video clip on Twitter, writing: "I pledged to the Country that a Bill will be introduced as soon as possible to deal with Homosexuality and lesbianism. We shall Jealously protect our cherished values and culture (sic)."
On the same day, this Facebook post alleged Museveni had signed the bill into law with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The same claim had been shared two days earlier on a Kenyan Facebook page called “Meru Daily News” in the form of a graphic featuring Museveni’s image.
It was since recirculated multiple times, with some commenters praising the Ugandan leader and urging other African leaders to emulate Museveni’s homophobic stance (see here, here, and here).
"We need more of these kinda presidents in Africa (sic)," one comment reads.
The same claim was repeated in this TikTok video with more than 200,000 views.
Other Facebook posts shared an old video report by local television station NTV Uganda from when Museveni signed a similar bill into law in 2014, implying it was recent (see here and here).
“Yoweri Museveni—Uganda president. Passes anti-gay bill into law. Legend,” one caption reads.
Uganda is notorious for intolerance of homosexuality — which is criminalised under colonial-era laws — and strict Christian views on sexuality in general.
But since independence from Britain in 1962, there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity.
In recent weeks, homophobic sentiments have also come to the forefront of politics in other east African countries.
In Kenya, politicians including President William Ruto have denounced homosexuality, saying it will "happen in other countries but not in Kenya".
This follows a Supreme Court ruling that allowed Kenya's LGBTQ+ community to register lobby groups. The judgement noted a previous ruling by a lower court had infringed on their constitutional right to association.
Homosexuality already illegal
However, Uganda's Anti-Homsexuality Bill 2023 had not yet been approved when the claim about Museveni signing it into law emerged in February.
It was presented in parliament for its first reading on March 9, 2023, before passing with a crushing majority on March 21, 2023.
Homosexuality is already illegal in the nation and it was not immediately clear what new penalties had been agreed upon.
MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, who spoke against the bill and who belongs to Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party, told AFP that under the final version of the legislation, offenders would face life imprisonment or even the death penalty for "aggravated" offences.
Donor nation outrage
In 2014, a Ugandan court struck down a bill passed by MPs and signed by Museveni that sought to impose life imprisonment on people in gay relationships.
The bill prompted global outrage, with some donor nations cutting aid to the country following its passage through parliament.
Uganda has seen a surge in online conspiracy theories conflating child sexual abuse at Ugandan boarding schools with consensual same-sex acts between adults.
In February 2023, Uganda's government set up a committee to investigate the alleged "promotion" of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights in schools.
March 22, 2023 The story is updated with Uganda's parliament passing the anti-gay bill on March 21, 2023.