(CNN) — A Ugandan newspaper published a story featuring a list of the nation’s “top” gays and lesbians with their photos and addresses, angering activists who say the already marginalized group risks facing further attacks.
Earlier this month, Rolling Stone newspaper — not affiliated with the U.S. magazine with the same name — featured 100 pictures of Uganda’s gays and lesbians. Next to the list was a yellow strip with the words “hang them.”
The story comes about a year after a Ugandan lawmaker introduced a measure that calls for the death penalty or long jail terms for those who engage in some homosexual activities.
The proposal was shelved after an international outcry.
“For me, the first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘how can this country allow such things to happen?” said Julian Pepe, who was also named in the story.
“They were calling for our hanging, they are asking people to take the law into their hands. We are all terrified.”
The 29-year-old said she’s a lesbian.
“I came out when I was 12, I have supportive parents who have been there for me,” said Pepe, a program coordinator for Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Those named in the story are living in fear, she said. Some have had to change jobs and move to new places.
Video: Gay activists fear for their lives
They were calling for our hanging, they are asking people to take the law into their hands. We are all terrified.
“We are providing some with psychological support,” she said. “People have been attacked, we are having to relocate others, some are quitting their jobs because they are being verbally abused. It’s a total commotion.”
Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister Nsaba Buturo dismissed the activists’ accusations.
“They [the activists] are always lying,” Buturo said. “It’s their way of mobilizing support from outside, they are trying to get sympathy from outside. It’s part of the campaign.”
Buturo said the anti-gay measure will be addressed and passed “in due course.”
“Of course I hope it passes,” he said.
Calls to David Bahati, the member of parliament who introduced the anti-gay bill, went unanswered Wednesday.
The paper’s editor, Giles Muhame, defended the list and said he published it to expose gays and lesbians, so authorities could arrest them. The weekly paper has been publishing for about six weeks.
After the list was published, the federal Media Council sent a warning to Muhame and ordered the newspaper to cease operating.
But the warning was “not related to the list at all,” said Paul Mukasa, secretary of the Media Council. Rather, he said, the letter warned the paper that it was publishing without required permits.
“Until they fill in the required paperwork, they are breaking the law,” Mukasa said.
The secretary said the newspaper has initiated the process “to put their house in order.”
“Some rights groups have complained that the newspaper is inciting people, but the council is focusing on its lack of paperwork,” Mukasa said.
Homosexuality is illegal in most countries in the region, including in nearby Kenya, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism.
In Uganda, homosexual acts are punishable by 14 years to life, Pepe said.
“Half the world’s countries that criminalize homosexual conduct do so because they cling to Victorian morality and colonial laws,” said Scott Long, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program for Human Rights Watch. “Getting rid of these unjust remnants of the British empire is long overdue.”
The role religion plays in Africa has a lot to do with the ban, others say.
Olatune Ogunyemi, a professor at Grambling State University in Louisiana, has said that some African constitutions are based on religion, making it possible to justify criminalizing homosexuality.
A post-apartheid constitution bans discrimination against gays in South Africa, the first African nation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.