Court Challenge to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act Begins as Researchers Reject Directive to Report ‘Offenders’
Some of those petitioning against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in court on Monday, including Pepe Onziema (left) and Frank Mugisha (centre).

The court challenge to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world, began in Kampala on Monday before five Constitutional Court judges.

The Act, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament in May, includes penalties such as a life sentence for same-sex acts between consenting adults, 10 years in prison for “attempted homosexuality;” the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and 20 years in prison for  “promotion of homosexuality”.

However, there is unlikely to be much more live court action after Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, chair of the hearing, agreed to entertain written submissions rather than live hearings.

This followed a request by the lawyers representing the eight petitioners, including MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, and LGBTQ leaders Frank Mugisha and Pepe Onziema,  that they wished to proceed by way of written submissions.

Respondents, the Attorney General, supported by evangelical Pastor Martin Ssempa and Watoto Church elder Stephen Langa, served the petitioners with their written submissions at the hearing, and the court directed the respondents to reply by 5pm on 20 December.

Thereafter, the court will deliver its judgment “on notice”, either in court or electronically.

Commenting on the decision, Nicholas Opiyo, the attorney for the petitioners, said that the intention was “to avoid the theatrical intention of some of the people admitted into the process whose only objective appeared to be using the court as a platform to raise money and profile”. 

“In the end, a decorous process to preserve the integrity of the court and the hearing was chosen over and above oral presentation,” added Opiyo on X inan apparent reference to Ssempa’s attempts to use the court challenge to fundraise for his anti-LGBTQ crusade.

Researchers threaten to withdraw after directive 

Meanwhile, Uganda’s National Council for Science and Technology faced international condemnation for directing all researchers to report anyone who violated, or was suspected to be violating, the Act in their research programmes to the police.

In an open letter sent to Dr Martin Ongol, acting secretary of the council, some 260 researchers worldwide call on him to immediately withdraw a directive he issued on 27 October.


The directive informed researchers that “the duty of confidentiality in research may be waived for the purposes of reporting to the relevant authorities the commission of an offence” in terms of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Act itself obliges citizens to report anyone who has committed or intends to commit any offence under the Act or face “a criminal penalty or a fine”.

“This Directive means we cannot uphold our moral commitment to the rights of our study participants to life, health, dignity, integrity, self-determination, privacy, and confidentiality,” notes the letter.

“We are asking you to immediately withdraw this Directive, if not, we will be forced to reassess our current research in Uganda and our future research plans.”

Uganda has already paid heavily for its homophobia, with the county’s new World Bank loans currently on hold along with new grants from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the country’s exclusion from the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that gives preferential trading terms to select African governments and US visa sanctions on key supporters of the Act, including all the MPs who voted for it.

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