The killing of a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist drew worldwide condemnation yesterday as the Uganda police moved to delink homophobia from his death.
David Kato, 46, an advocacy officer for the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda, was found with serious head wounds at his home in Bukusa, Mukono District on Wednesday but died from his injuries on his way to hospital.
There were calls from the US government and the European Union asking the Ugandan police to “actively” and “vigorously” investigate the killing. A statement from the US Mission in Kampala said: “The United States calls on Ugandan authorities to actively investigate David’s murder and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice.”
The EU statement read: “The EU Heads of Mission call on the Ugandan authorities to investigate David Kato’s murder vigorously and to ensure that the perpetrators of this terrible act are brought to justice.” Kato, whose picture was published by a local tabloid next to the words “Hang them” last year, was reportedly clobbered with a hammer.
News of Mr Kato’s death went viral on the web yesterday, following a statement by the Internal rights group, Human Rights Watch, which condemned the killing and urged Ugandan authorities to protect minorities, by deterring “threats or hate speech likely to incite violence, discrimination, or hostility toward them.”
“David Kato’s death is a tragic loss to the human rights community,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “David had faced the increased threats ... bravely and will be sorely missed.” However, the police’s deputy spokesperson Mr Vicente Ssekate told journalists at a press briefing in Kampala that preliminary investigations had pointed to alleged robbery.
“The circumstances surrounding this incident have no indications regarding Kato’s campaign for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Parliament,” he said.
“It is therefore not true that his death is connected to his role as an activist in the Sexual Minorities Uganda.”
The Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura said in a statement yesterday that assailants hit the deceased with a hammer on the head. Gen. Kayihura said the victim’s neighbours claim they saw someone in a jacket and shoes that belonged to the deceased moving out of the house in a hurry. “After sometime, the inquisitive residents entered the home of Kato. They found the door locked but on peeping through the key hole, they saw him lying down on the floor,” he said.
Mr Ssekate said police were interrogating the deceased’s driver, Mr Arnold Ssenoga, and hunting for his houseboy who was still at large by press time.
Mr Kato was listed among a group of 100 people suspected to be homosexuals in the country by the local tabloid Rolling Stone. The tabloid’s editor Giles Muhame told Daily Monitor yesterday that although he sympathised with the family of the bereaved, Kato was a victim of his own “evil” actions. “He brought death upon himself. He hasn’t lived carefully. Kato was a shame to this country,” he said. Police detectives spent the day picking fingerprints and interviewing neighbours of the deceased.
Mr Ssekate said the police was taking the case “seriously” and asked the public to aid its investigations with any information that can lead to the arrest of the alleged perpetrators.
“David Kato was fearless in his defence of fundamental rights and freedoms and will be a great loss to the global community of Human Rights Defenders and to Uganda,” said the European Union in a statement.