Uganda’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday (March 21) providing for heavy penalties for people in same-sex relationships, in a heated session. “Yes wins”, announced the President of Parliament, Annet Anita Among, after the final vote, stressing that “the law was adopted in record time”.

MEPs considerably amended the initial text which provided for penalties of up to ten years in prison for anyone engaging in homosexual acts or claiming to be LGBT, in a country where homosexuality is already illegal.

The extent of the new penalties under the law was not immediately known. “This chamber will not hesitate to restrict any right insofar as it recognizes, protects and safeguards the sovereignty of this country and its morals,” Ms. Among said. The law must be submitted to President Yoweri Museveni, who can either enact it or veto it.

Virulent wave of homophobia in East Africa

This vote in Uganda comes against a backdrop of a virulent wave of homophobia in East Africa, where homosexuality is illegal and often considered a crime. Conspiracy theories on the subject abound on social media, accusing obscure international forces of promoting homosexuality in Uganda.

Last week, President Museveni, in power since 1986, called homosexuals “deviants”. Shortly after, on March 17, Ugandan police announced the arrest of six men for “homosexual practice”. Uganda has strict anti-homosexuality legislation – a legacy of British colonial laws – but since its independence from the UK in 1962 there have been no prosecutions for consensual homosexual acts.

In 2014, Ugandan justice blocked a bill approved by MPs and signed by President Museveni punishing same-sex relations with life imprisonment. This text had caused an outcry beyond Ugandan borders, some rich countries having suspended their aid after its presentation to Parliament.