Gay Ugandans seek private Pope session

Pope Francis (R) waves in greeting as Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta looks on after he arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on November 25, 2015. AFP photo

Gay rights activists in Uganda have asked for a private audience with Pope Francis when he visits the east African nation later this week, a campaigner said Wednesday.

Leading gay rights activist Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) said a group of gay Catholics "had written to the public offices of the Vatican" asking for a private meeting with Francis during his stay in the country from November 27-29.

A harsh new anti-homosexuality law was struck down last year by the constitutional court in Uganda -- the second of three African countries the pope will visit on his Africa tour -- but under a colonial-era penal code homosexual acts remain illegal.

Homosexual acts are illegal in at least 35 other African countries including Kenya and Central African Republic (CAR), which the pope is also visiting.

Mugisha, who is Catholic, said Uganda's threatened lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community had been excluded from the pope's itinerary.

"We are not on the list, so we are trying to get a meeting with him," he said, adding that no reply had yet been received.

"We want him to call for non-discrimination and for the end of violence towards LGBT people."

The church in Uganda has indicated that it expects the pope not to address gay rights but Mugisha said he hoped the issue would be raised "publicly or privately with the church".

Pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also written to the pope ahead of his Uganda visit urging him to "raise a number of human rights issues", among them gay rights.

HRW said gay Ugandans, "continue to face arrest, discrimination, eviction from their homes, and violence from government officials
and private individuals."