‘I will bring another anti-gay Bill if court nullifies this one’

Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa, is the architect of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023, which Parliament passed recently. He spoke to Arthur Arnold Wadero about what he went through before and after processing of the Bill.

How did you prepare and present the Bill?
Locally, the position [on homosexuality] is very clear, majority of Ugandans dislike homosexuality. It is very disgusting, abominable. You are not going to find any Ugandan taking pride in homosexuality. It’s not our culture.
Even those who think natural disposition places them in that aspect; two or three things would happen. They would be excommunicated from the community, neglected and rejected, or rehabilitated. So historically, it was socially and culturally repellant. Progressively, it became a crime when we became a colonial state and it has remained a crime. It was criminalised under the Penal Code Act. 

In the lead-up to being granted leave to process the Bill, it seemed like it was something that had been dictated by the dialogue in the public domain. One would wonder if this was something that you had worked on for long before? 
No, it’s something I’ve thought about since August last year, that’s when I conceived the idea of bringing this matter up. And at that time, I had received concerns, even in my constituency. And I didn’t give it a lot of attention because I had other issues to deal with at that time. 
But I continued to receive information. About a month ago, I attended a graduation ceremony of a prominent businessperson in Bugiri [where] seven of his children were graduating. Every speaker was concerned about the increasing acts of homosexuality. They were calling on us, MPs, to do something.
So that awakened me. So when I came back here [Parliament], I had engagements with some of my colleagues, and they shared similar sentiments.

What did you find during the time when the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee was entertaining views from various stakeholders on the Bill?
After I was granted leave, hell broke loose! My emails were jammed. My phones were jammed with profanities, abuses but also praises.
Some people appreciated me for taking the courage to bring back this law. Others were castigating me, calling me all sorts of names. Homosexuality is promoted, supported and funded by Western countries. They have a lot of money and influence. So when you take it up, it’s a very difficult decision to take at a personal level. I had to prepare my family for the consequences. I told them to expect to be subjected to travel bans, visa restrictions and other forms of restrictions. We agreed to support each other. 
Then obviously, the diversion campaign and an attempt to downplay the significance [of the Bill] started. You heard voices from some sections of people saying the law is a diversion from critical issues. And I kept asking what was more critical than protecting the family as an institution and its values, which is at the core of Uganda? 
This was a battle that had to be undertaken by a determined, courageous and informed person. I thank the Speaker of Parliament for the courage and determination.

How did you handle the situation? 
For some time, I switched off my phones. I had a chat with [Ndorwa West MP] David Bahati and we shared briefly on what to expect. Whatever I have faced is something I prepared for and whatever I have to face is something I expect. 
So I have had to, for example, change the passwords of my accounts to make them a little bit complicated on the advice of my IT advisors because I discovered there was also an attempt to hack into my accounts.
Are there any ripple effects that you are starting to face after the processing and passing of the Bill?
No! Not formally and directly so far, although I have got information from my contacts that they are planning different kinds of sanctions on me as an individual. The European Union (EU) and the US have discussed this.
If Americans don’t want me to go to their country, it is their right. They determine who goes there. 
If EU member states do not want me to go to their countries, it is their right. I will not complain. But that is the same respect I want them to accord us as a country. 
They should respect our laws. They should respect our values and culture.
Fortunately, it’s not really about me and my call is that they should not sanction me alone if they are to go that way. Let them sanction all the MPs, all Ugandans because what happened that day is a representation of the voices of the people of Uganda.

Members of Parliament debate the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023, before they passed it during a session at Parliament on March 21. PHOTOS/DAVID LUBOWA

What would you say to people who argue that Uganda had bigger problems to deal with as opposed to fronting this Bill?
There is no critical national issue that Parliament has not given time. We have discussed inflation, high commodity prices, the health sector, the economy, the state of education, human rights and abductions, judicial and case backlog and the poor road infrastructure. 
So anybody who says there were more important or critical issues that we should have discussed, is either ignorant or is blackmailing Parliament. 
Personally, I have been part of more than five Bills here. [Budiope East MP] Moses Magogo and I brought the Sports Bill. [Kumi Municipality MP] Silas Aogon and I brought the Legal Aid Bill. I brought the Law Reform and Miscellaneous Amendment Bill. 

There are fears that the President might not assent. Are you confident he will sign the Bill?
If the President respects the will of the people, he has no reason for not signing this law. And I have all the confidence that he will sign because he has done it before. 
There is no reason why the President should not sign this law. It was overwhelmingly supported by Parliament. If the President does not sign this Bill, then he is in effect going against the will of the people.
I understand there is a lot of pressure. And this is where I really have a problem with the Western world. They want us to respect their values and their laws, but they don’t want to respect ours. There should be mutual respect. 
My call to the President is that let him not bow to any pressure. 

What are your parting shots?

There are two or three things that I want to request of the public. I invite people to read the law. Homosexuals have embarked on a distortion campaign of the law. And they are saying the media is going to be criminalised, lawyers will not be allowed to practice the law. Where is that in the Bill? So before people make comments, I invite them to read the Bill. 
Number two, that Bill has provisions similar to many provisions in other laws. Somebody is complaining about the death penalty. Don’t we have death penalty in our laws? 
The issue of brothels and premises. Somebody was saying ‘how will I know?’ But the Bill says ‘if you knowingly let your premises’. So the operational word there is ‘knowingly,’ now how do I get to know? I can be told. Yes, if people come and tell me. I can observe, I can see. 
What are we talking about the media? Tell me any media house that will promote terrorism and the law will not catch up with it. 

So a media house that promotes criminality definitely must be sanctioned. 
The part about the lawyers, legal representation is a constitutional right. Nobody can take it away. 
Then the issue of people going to court. Again, it is their right.  Whoever wants to go to court and challenge the Bill, is free. Even if they went to court, and the court nullified the law, I’ll bring another law. Whenever court nullifies a law on homosexuality, I will bring another law with a provision to suit the advice of the courts.

On private matters

What about the argument that sex and whatever is behind the walls and in bedrooms is a private matter and, therefore, Parliament and the State should not interfere?
It is another very lackadaisical [weak] argument. They [proponents of such arguments] appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and we put it to them, ‘let’s take that same argument and juxtapose it with two adults, a mother and a son having sex in their bedroom. They are adults. They have consented. They’re in a private place. Is it okay?’ They said no, it’s not okay. So when it comes to incest, for example, they say it is not okay. 
When it comes to homosexuality, they say these are adults. I want any homosexual to come and explain that it is okay for him to have sex with their mother or daughter because they’re adults. 
When we reach that level, society has to intervene. So it is not true that everything you do in privacy, you are not affecting anybody.