A funeral has been held for a leading gay rights activist beaten to death after his photo was published in a Ugandan anti-gay newspaper, Rolling Stone, next to the words "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos."
David Kato, 46, was attacked at his home in Kampala on Wednesday “by unknown people and beaten, leading to his death,” Denis Wamala, a gay-rights activist, said in a phone interview. “He has been receiving death threats for his gay stand.”
Meanwhile, the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has urged the government to offer protection to gay and lesbian people seeking asylum in the U.K. after the "profoundly shocking" killing of Kato, the Guardian reported.
Kato, an advocacy officer for the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), was one of the most visible defenders of gay rights in a country where homophobia is widespread and government leaders have proposed executing gay people.
Kato and other gay people in Uganda had recently warned that their lives were endangered, and four months ago a local paper called Rolling Stone published a list of gay people, with Kato’s face on the front page.
On Jan. 3, Kato won a court case against Rolling Stone (which is not linked to the U.S. publication of the same name) preventing the further publication of names and addresses of gay activists in the country. An earlier story published in October had called for gays in the country to be hanged.
The press statement from SMUG noted that: “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,” in response to Kato’s successful suit against the tabloid.
The editor of the Rolling Stone, Giles Muhame, said Thursday that he condemned Kato’s murder and insisted that his publication had not called for gays to be harmed.
“We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not the public to attack them,” Muhame said, according to Sky News.
The newspaper was ordered by the court to stop publishing the details of homosexuals on privacy grounds but only after 29 people, including Kato, had been “outed.”
Kato, a former primary school teacher, rose to prominence taking on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which called for the death sentence for people convicted of "aggravated homosexuality."
Aggravated homosexuality is a new term that includes: gay sex with someone younger than 18 or someone who has sex and is HIV positive, as well as gay sex in which the offender seduces a person using alcohol or drugs, the offender is a parent/guardian of the person against whom the offense is committed, or victim of the offense is a person with a disability.
As reported by GlobalPost's Gregory Branch, the bill was introduced Sept. 25, 2009,by David Bahati, an up-and-coming Ugandan member of parliament from the politically influential western region of Uganda.
Branch wrote in December 2009 that a new image could be emerging for Uganda, "one that would eclipse any other notion and one that Ugandans are hotly debating: one of the few countries in the world to implement the death penalty for gays and lesbians."
A Ugandan law dating back to British colonial rule makes homosexuality a crime.
But many critics charge that the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill confused homosexual acts between consenting adults with pedophilia and rape.
"Bahatiʼs own description of the reason for the bill," wrote Branch, "is 'there is also a need to protect the children and youths of Uganda, who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural exchanges, uncensored information technologies ... and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children."
Kato said he took up the fight for gay rights when he returned from South Africa in 1998, four years after the end of apartheid.
"In South Africa I fought for their liberation in Johannesburg, so when I came home I had the same momentum — I tried to liberate my own community," he said in an interview last year posted on YouTube (below).
Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the Ugandan government to investigate the murder.
“David Kato’s death is a tragic loss to the human rights community,” said a spokeswoman, Maria Burnett. “David faced the increased threats to the Ugandan LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people bravely and will be sorely missed.”