Uganda Court Bans Media Outings

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com January 03 2011 10:30 AM ET

A Ugandan judge ruled Monday that media companies cannot out gay people in the African country, citing the constitutional right to privacy in a decision that could help activists fighting the proposed bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality.

According to Agence France-Presse, the judge issued a permanent injunction against the newspaper Rolling Stone, which last year published the photos and addresses of more than 20 gay rights campaigners. One issue included the headline “Hang Them” with calls for execution from an unidentified evangelical pastor.

The case focused on Rolling Stone but the ruling extends to all media, reported AFP. The French news agency spoke with John Francis Onyango, who represented three gay rights campaigners from the umbrella group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).

“High court judge Vincent Musoke-Kibuuke also ruled that the petitioners' lives were threatened since the story exposed them to potential attacks from vigilantes, Onyango said,” reported AFP. “The petitioners were awarded 1.5 million Uganda shillings (about 650 dollars or 500 euros) and Rolling Stone was ordered to pay all legal fees incurred by SMUG.”

SMUG executive director Frank Mugisha hailed the ruling in a brief telephone interview with The Advocate.

“The view of the organization is that at least we are happy that the Ugandan judiciary is independent and they have expressed that all people are entitled to privacy regardless of their sexual orientation,” he said. “This is a move to show the Ugandan government that indeed they should decriminalize homosexuality.”

Mugisha, who was not a party to the suit but helped the petitioners with their case, said the ruling could boost efforts to combat the bill pending in parliament that would impose the death penalty on gay people in certain instances. The ruling follows a successful effort in the United Nations General Assembly last month to restore sexual orientation to a resolution against extrajudicial executions.

“It will be very helpful because these people look at things that are related within the bill and within the media,” he said. “The media has also played a very big role in this.”

Read the full ruling here.