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Tue Nov 25 03:47:15 SAST 2014

Uganda constitutional court annuls new anti-gay law

AFP | 01 August, 2014 12:55
Participants from Uganda participate in the annual Pride London parade which highlights issues of the gay, lesbian and transgender community. File photo.
Image by: LUKE MACGREGOR / REUTERS

Uganda's constitutional court on Friday overturned tough new anti-gay laws that had been branded draconian by rights groups, saying they had been wrongly passed by parliament.

The law is "null and void," the presiding judge told the court, saying the process had contravened the constitution, as it has been passed in parliament in December without the necessary quorum of lawmakers.

"Justice prevailed, we won," said lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who led the challenge in the constitutional court.

The law's supporters said they would appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.

"The retrogressive anti-homosexuality act of Uganda has been struck down by the constitutional court -- it's now dead as a door nail," said Andrew Mwenda, one of 10 petitioners.

The law, signed by Uganda's veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, said that homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and obliged Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

But homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by jail sentences under previous legislation, which is expected to be returned after the court's decision.

Lawmakers could also seek to reintroduce a bill back into parliament, a potentially lengthy process, with the last such bill taking four years from introduction to the final vote.

But gay rights activists were celebrating on Friday.

"I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come," said Kasha Jacqueline, another petitioner and a prominent gay rights activist.

Outspoken anti-gay preacher Pastor Martin Ssempa led prayers before the hearing inside the tightly packed courtroom calling for the judges to uphold the law.

Ssempa had already warned he feared the "judicial abortion of our bill" due to international pressure, and said immediately he would appeal the ruling.

"We are determined to appeal this case at the Supreme Court," he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has likened the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Critics have said Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

But Western nations made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda's government in protest since the law was passed.

Rights groups say the law triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

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