The Ugandan high court has ruled to ban media outlets from publishing lists of people they accuse of being gay or lesbian, citing a clear and present danger that individuals named in those lists could face harassment and violence in a country that both criminalizes and vilifies homosexuality.
Judge Rules Against Ugandan Tabloid
The December 30 decision by Judge Vincent Musoke-Kibuuka forbids the Rolling Stone paper – no affiliation to the American publication which has condemned the Ugandan tabloid – from publishing either the identities or home addresses of those they suspect of being gay or lesbian. The judge also awarded the plaintiffs, three members of a Ugandan gay rights group, their court costs and 1.5 million Ugandan shillings (around $650).
The judge granted a permanent injunction against the Rolling Stone paper, but also extended that injunction to cover all media outlets, citing that the outings affronted the human dignity of those involved and represented a direct enticement of violence that went beyond the bounds freedom of expression—a point that the editors of Rolling Stone had argued in defense of their actions.
In October the Rolling Stone paper issued a list of 100 people it called its “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos”.
The paper ran a frontpage spread advertising the list alongside a caption saying: “Hang Them.” However, several of those included in the list, and subsequent lists, were not in fact homosexual, and it has since emerged that one such list included a married, 78-year-old Anglican Bishop.
Since the publication of the lists, human rights groups in Uganda have reported a rise in violence against those suspected of being gay or lesbian. As such, one group went to court to prevent the tabloid from publishing the lists and from furthering what they perceived to be an inevitable slide toward lethal vigilantism.
More on what has been called a precedent setting decision from The BBC:
The newspaper argued that as the three people who brought the case were known gay rights leaders, it could not be punished for saying they were homosexuals.
But Judge Vincent Musoke-Kibuuke ruled that their lives had been threatened as they risked being attacked by vigilantes, Mr Onyango said.
One of the petitioners, Pepe Julian Onziema, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that she welcomed the ruling.
“It sets precedent in this country, and across Africa,” she said.
“A lot of the danger that we have been facing has been the result of the local media here. It’s basically set a standard for the media to begin treating us as humans, as part of the community.”
Ms Onziema said compensation was “not an important factor for us”, and that it had been more a question of protecting lives.
“We’d had enough because we were in lots of danger already. Then Rolling Stone went a notch higher by calling for the hanging of gay people,” she added. “We had to put a stop to it.”
A coalition grouping together human rights campaigners said they were pleased the High Court had taken this “principled step”.
“This ruling is a landmark not only for sexual and other minorities living in Uganda, but also an important precedent for other countries facing similar issues,” the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda said in a statement.
It is not known at this time whether the editors of the Rolling Stone tabloid will appeal this decision. *
*UPDATE: Rolling Stone’s managing editor Giles Muhame has said in an exclusive comment to The Independent that he will appeal the ruling and is planning to get signatures of Ugandan citizens who support the paper’s attempt at, to quote him, “exposing the evil in … society”. Read more here.