By David McKenzie and Eve Brennan, CNN
(CNN) — Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has signed some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world, the speaker of parliament said, defying international pressure, including from the United States which said it was “deeply troubled.”
The bill includes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality’ which includes sex with a minor, having sex while HIV positive and incest.
The bill criminalizes sex education for the gay community and makes it illegal not to expose what it calls perpetrators of aggravated homosexuality to the police. It calls for “rehabilitation”– widely discredited conversion therapy – for gay offenders.
Uganda’s longtime president has already faced extensive criticism from Western governments over the law.
“The United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that undermines the human rights, prosperity, and welfare of all Ugandans,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Monday.
Blinken added that the law would damage Uganda’s “reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism, and refugees,” and he said he had directed the State Department to update the guidance for Americans traveling to Uganda.
The speaker of the parliament Anita Annet Among celebrated the bill’s signing, saying parliament had “answered the cries of our people.”
“I thank His Excellency, the president, for his steadfast action in the interest of Uganda. With a lot of humility, I thank my colleagues the Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure from bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists in the interest of the country,” she added.
Henry Mukiibi, an activist who assists LGBTQ Ugandans, told CNN that he fears people will take the law into their own hands: “I think this is so so horrible. We didn’t expect this – we thought he would be advised against it. We are going to be tortured. I am just scared now about what is next. People have been waiting for the bill to be signed and then they will work on us. We are going to die.”
Civil society groups are already looking to challenge the law.
“This is hardly surprising for anyone following the events closely, but it is still deeply concerning that the country is viciously discriminating against its sexual minorities. The battle lines are drawn and the next stage of the contestation will be in a court of law,” Nicholas Opiyo, a prominent human rights lawyer told CNN.
“The civil society in Uganda together with the LGBTQI community are prepared to take this to the courts and challenge the law. Because this law is a deeply discriminatory and repressive law that doesn’t meet any international human rights and local standards.”
The courts could indeed offer an avenue for Uganda’s gay community. A similarly homophobic law was struck down by the courts in 2014.
Ugandan rights lawyer Sarah Kasanda said the law was already being challenged.
“As soon as the president assented to the bill, human rights activists and lawyers immediately filed a petition to the Constitutional Court,” she told CNN.
“We are very hopeful that the Constitutional Court will nullify this law because it does not stand any constitutional scrutiny. It goes against the bill of rights enshrined in Uganda’s own constitution.”
“Ugandans are fighting back. This bill does not reflect our values,” she added.
US President Joe Biden described the bill in a statement on Monday as “a tragic violation of universal human rights.”
He said he had instructed the National Security Council “to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of US engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments.”
Biden also warned that his administration is considering additional steps, including sanctions and restrictions on entry to the US for “anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.”
British and European leaders also condemned the law, with the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell describing it as “deplorable.”
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CNN’s Sugam Pokharel, DJ Judd, Catherine Nicholls and Nimi Princewill contributed to this report