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David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist in threatened in October with hanging on the front page of a Kampala newspaper, was found brutally beaten to death Wednesday at his home.
Kato was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), which confirmed his murder in a news release. He was one of the plaintiffs who won a case against the Rolling Stone newspaper earlier this month (despite a shared title, the Uganda publication has no affiliation with the American magazine).
"David has been receiving death threats since his face was put on the front page of Rolling Stone Magazine, which called for his death and the death of all homosexuals," said SMUG. "David's death comes directly after the Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that people must stop inciting violence against homosexuals and must respect the right to privacy and human dignity."
Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality said concerns remain for the safety of the other litigants in the case, who sued the newspaper after it posted "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos," accompanied by the words "Hang Them."
"Our mandate and focus is to make sure that the U.S. government, our State Department, our embassy, and our leaders in Congress to understand and respond to this human rights tragedy," Bromley said.
According to Bromley, State Department officials have been watching the case closely. "Clearly it's a high priority for them," Bromley said.
The Guardianreports that Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home in the town of Mukono in the afternoon. Witnesses saw a man fleeing the scene in a car.
SMUG called for the police and government to investigate the murder seriously and for religious leaders, politicians, and media to stop demonizing LGBT people. David Bahati, a member of parliament with close connections to American evangelicals, continues to push for a bill that would impose the death penalty on gay people in some circumstances.
Val Kalende, the board chair at Freedom and Roam Uganda, said in the news release,"David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S Evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan Government and the so-called U.S Evangelicals must take responsibility for David's blood!"
SMUG executive director Frank Mugisha said, "No form of intimidation will stop our cause. The death of David will only be honored when the struggle for justice and equality is won. David is gone and many of us will follow, but the struggle will be won. David wanted to see a Uganda where all people will be treated equally despite their sexual orientation."
Burial arrangements for Kato are under way for Friday afternoon at his ancestral home in Namataba, Mukono District.
The BBC offers an obituary. Kato was a primary school teacher turned activist who proudly claimed the label of the first out gay Ugandan.
Read Jeff Sharlet's October cover story for The Advocate on the deadly consequences of antigay rhetoric in Uganda.
U.K. human rights activist Peter Tatchell released the following statement on Kato's murder:
"David will live on in our memories. He will also live on through the rights and equalities that LGBTI Ugandans will win eventually thanks to his many years of tireless groundwork and campaigning. I express my admiration and appreciation to all the members of SMUG who are battling for LGBTI freedom in conditions of great adversity and danger. Their courage and tenacity is awesome.
"This savage killing will, I hope, finally prompt Uganda's political, religious and media leaders to cease their homophobic witch-hunts. Their hatred helps create the bigoted atmosphere that leads to queer-bashing violence."
The U.S. embassy in Kampala has also issued a statement on Kato's death:
"The U.S. extends its sympathies to David's family, friends and human rights colleagues. David's courageous devotion to promoting the universal human rights of members of Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community improved the lives of minority populations in Uganda and throughout Africa, and his selfless dedication to defending human rights and speaking out against injustice served as inspiration to human rights defenders around the world."
The White House issued this statement from President Obama:
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the murder of David Kato. In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate. He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David's work.
"At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate. In the weeks preceding David Kato's murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the Governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
"LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights. My Administration will continue to strongly support human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad. We do this because we recognize the threat faced by leaders like David Kato, and we share their commitment to advancing freedom, fairness, and equality for all."