Uganda president signs harsh anti-gay law

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signs a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, in Entebbe, Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Museveni on Monday signed the controversial anti-gay bill into law, with penalties including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders and life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, saying it is needed to deter what he called the West’s “social imperialism” promoting homosexuality in Africa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signs a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, in Entebbe, Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Museveni on Monday signed the controversial anti-gay bill into law, with penalties including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders and life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, saying it is needed to deter what he called the West’s “social imperialism” promoting homosexuality in Africa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)

FILE – In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, Kenyan gays and lesbians and others supporting their cause wear masks to preserve their anonymity and one holds out a condom, as they stage a rare protest, against Uganda’s increasingly tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is expected to sign Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 a controversial anti-gay bill that allows harsh penalties for homosexual offenses, a bill which rights groups have condemned as draconian in a country where homosexuality is already illegal. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni gestures after signing a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, in Entebbe, Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Museveni on Monday signed the controversial anti-gay bill into law, with penalties including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders and life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, saying it is needed to deter what he called the West’s “social imperialism” promoting homosexuality in Africa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signs a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, in Entebbe, Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Museveni on Monday signed the controversial anti-gay bill into law, with penalties including 14 years in jail for first-time offenders and life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, saying it is needed to deter what he called the West’s “social imperialism” promoting homosexuality in Africa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie)

FILE – In this Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, Kenyan gays and lesbians and others supporting their cause wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest, against Uganda’s increasingly tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is expected to sign Monday, Feb. 24, 2014 a controversial anti-gay bill that allows harsh penalties for homosexual offenses, a bill which rights groups have condemned as draconian in a country where homosexuality is already illegal. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

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ENTEBBE, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s president signed an anti-gay bill Monday that provides for prison sentences ranging up to life behind bars, saying it is needed because the West is promoting homosexuality in Africa. Arrests of gays were expected as a result, one politician said.

The new law goes into effect immediately and calls for first-time offenders to be sentenced to 14 years in jail. It sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated gay sex between consenting adults and acts involving a minor, a disabled person or where one partner is infected with HIV.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that the law would institutionalize discrimination and could encourage harassment and violence against gays.

The law is expected to send the country’s beleaguered gay community further underground as the police try to implement it amid fevered anti-gay sentiment. At least six people have already been arrested over alleged homosexual offenses and more than a dozen have fled Uganda since lawmakers passed the bill in December, according to a prominent Ugandan gay activist, Pepe Julian Onziema.

“The president is making this decision because he has never met an openly gay person. That disappoints me,” he said.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill at the presidential palace as government officials, journalists and Ugandan scientists looked on. Government officials applauded after Museveni affixed his signature. The scientists had written a report which found there is no proven genetic basis for homosexuality, and which was cited by Museveni in backing the bill, claiming it disproved that people can be born homosexual.

Some European countries have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the measure was enacted. U.S. President Barack Obama warned that signing the bill would “complicate” the East African country’s relationship with Washington.

But in signing the legislation passed by Parliament, Museveni rejected such reaction as interference in Ugandan affairs. A similar measure signed into law recently in Nigeria by its president.

“We Africans never seek to impose our view on others. If only they could let us alone,” Museveni said. “We have been disappointed for a long time by the conduct of the West. There is now an attempt at social imperialism.”

Museveni accused “arrogant and careless Western groups” of trying to recruit Ugandan children into homosexuality, but he did not name these purported groups.

Museveni said he believes Western homosexuals have targeted poor Ugandans who then “prostitute” themselves for the money, an allegation repeated by the bill’s Ugandan defenders. Museveni did not cite any examples of people he called “mercenary homosexuals.”

Some critics believe Museveni signed the bill in hopes of galvanizing political support within his party, the National Resistance Movement, ahead of an upcoming meeting that is expected to endorse him as the party’s sole choice in the 2016 presidential election.

Fox Odoi, a Ugandan lawmaker who was once Museveni’s legal adviser and the only legislator who publicly opposed the

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