A Ugandan gay rights activist whose name and picture were published in a homophobic tabloid has been murdered at his home, sparking international concern.
David Kato, 43, was killed on Wednesday with initial investigations showing that a man entered his home in the capital Kampala and struck him on the head before fleeing, his lawyer John Francis Onyango said.
Police chief Kale Kayihura said the killing had nothing to do with Kato’s gay rights activism.
“The circumstances surrounding this incident have no indications regarding Kato’s campaign (against) the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” Kayihura told reporters.
“It is therefore not true that his death is connected to his role as an activist in the Sexual Minorities Uganda.”
Kato was pictured and named by the anti-gay tabloid Rolling Stone – no relation to the US magazine of the same name – that also ran a story late last year calling on readers to “hang” gay rights advocates.
He will be buried Friday at his home in Mukono district east of the capital Kampala.
Homosexuality is banned in Uganda, which is mulling a harsh new anti-gay bill – one of the most repressive in the region – that would usher in the death sentence for acts of “aggravated homosexuality”.
Police were focusing on two potential suspects, the lawyer said.
The killing prompted widespread international concern with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging Ugandan authorities “to quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for this heinous act.”
Head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek called for an urgent investigation, describing Kato as a “man that fought for the rights of people to live freely regardless of their sexual orientation in Uganda.”
British Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham also praised Kato’s “valiant work” and said he trusted the “Ugandan police force will thoroughly investigate Mr Kato’s murder.”
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Kato died on his way to hospital. The New York-based rights group called on police to “urgently and impartially investigate the killing.”
Amnesty International accused Kampala of ignoring discrimination against homosexuals.
“It is deeply worrying that the Ugandan government has been so conspicuously silent about discriminatory rhetoric against LGBTI people in Uganda,” said Michelle Kagari, the group’s deputy director for Africa, referring to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex.
“Now more than ever is the time for the authorities to reassure Ugandans that it will protect them against threats and violence regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The 2010 tabloid article that identified Kato accused gay rights leaders of “recruiting” Uganda’s youth into homosexuality.
Another article carried the headline “Hang Them”, in reference to gay rights campaigners.
Kato and two others successfully sued the paper for damages and secured a high court injunction blocking all media from outing gays.
He was also a vocal critic of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which, if enacted, would massively expand the list of prosecutable offences related to being gay and allow capital punishment for “aggravated homosexuality”.
The category includes any act involving a minor or a person who knows he is HIV positive and also encompasses “repeat offenders”.
The country’s penal code already bans “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”, as do those of many African countries.
An attempt to commit a homosexual act can be punishable by seven years in jail in Uganda. A conviction for actually committing such an act carries a life sentence.
Few countries in the region however, have tried to push through legislation as repressive as the bill Uganda wants to enact.
Many activists say the Ugandans pushing for tougher anti-gay measures have been influenced by homophobic evangelical pastors from the United States.
HRW Uganda researcher Maria Burnett said the bill, which has not yet been debated in parliament, should be withdrawn.
“President Yoweri Museveni should categorically reject the hate that lies behind this bill, and instead encourage tolerance of divergent views of sexuality and protect vulnerable minorities.”
US President Barack Obama last year called the draft bill “odious”.
Rolling Stone, founded recently by university graduates, appears only infrequently.
He said today he was “deeply saddened” by the murder and urged that those who commit such “unconscionable” crimes face justice.
“In Uganda, David showed tremendous courage in speaking out against hate. He was a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom. The United States mourns his murder, and we recommit ourselves to David’s work,” Obama said.
In a written statement, the president said that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and people of trans-gender were routinely subjected around the world to “unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate.”
“In the weeks preceding David Kato’s murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered,” Obama said in a written statement.
“It is essential that the governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable.
“LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights,” Obama said.
Other Ugandan tabloids have over the past several years sporadically published similar articles listing the name and picture, and in some cases the place of residence, of homosexuals.