Christians Stand Firm amid Uganda 'State Homophobia' Accusations

Christians have stood firm in Africa, denouncing homosexuality as against Biblical Scripture, as an international human rights group accused Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's government of promoting "state homophobia".

|PIC1|Human Rights Watch's has backed pro-gay rights groups in urging for the country's laws against sodomy to be brought to an end.

Human Rights Watch's attack has added to a fierce social debate in the east African nation, where gays and lesbians have been increasingly vocal in demanding rights as Christian groups have taken to the streets to denounce homosexuality as a sin.

The Ugandan Government has immediately rejected HRW's accusation of state homophobia, and said it had never persecuted gays.

New York-based HRW sent a letter to President Museveni calling for legislative reform and an end to what the group described as a "long record of harassing" lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people.

"For years, President Museveni's government has drummed up homophobia and denied the basic rights of LGBT people for his own political advantage," said HRW researcher Juliana Cano Nieto in a statement sent to media on Friday.

Ruling party spokesman Ofwono Opondo rejected the statement. He said: "Our constitution criminalises homosexuality... Even so, the government has never gone out to look for homosexuals," he told Reuters by telephone from Kampala.

The issue came to the fore in Uganda this month when an advocacy group, the Sexual Minorities Groups in Uganda, took the unprecedented step of holding a news conference to demand recognition. Even so, most hid their faces behind masks.

That prompted demonstrations from the Inter-faith Coalition of church groups in Kampala demanding that there be no compromises given to gay rights, fearing any relaxation in the law would lead to a wider culture of homosexuality in the country - something they say goes in direct contradiction to Scripture.

Uganda's conservative parliamentarians are unlikely to change its laws, Opondo stated.

HRW said homosexual acts were criminalised in Uganda under a sodomy law inherited from British colonialism, "although punishments were... strengthened in 1990".

"State homophobia and well-funded fanaticism are undermining Uganda's efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS," Nieto said.

HRW accused Museveni's government, in power since 1986, of harassing gay organisations, promoting discrimination through state media and raiding homes of activists.

Uganda, with a population of 31 million, has some 500,000 gays and lesbians, activists say.

However, Christianity and traditional beliefs remain strong across the continent, and any discussions on liberalising views towards homosexuality have been quickly and widely condemned by Church groups.