President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has refused to sign into law a controversial new bill against homosexuality that prescribes the death penalty in some cases, requesting that it should be amended.
Museveni’s decision was announced late on Thursday after a meeting of parliamentarians in his ruling party, almost all of whom support the bill approved by lawmakers last month.
The meeting resolved to return the bill to the national assembly “with proposals for its improvement”, a statement said.
A spokesman for the presidency said Museveni was not opposed to the punishments proposed in the bill, but wanted parliamentarians to look into “the issue of rehabilitation”.
“[Museveni] told the members that he had no objections to the punishments but on the issue of rehabilitation of the persons who have in the past been engaged in homosexuality but would like to live normal lives again,” spokesman Sandor Walusimbi said on Twitter.
“It was agreed that the bill goes back to parliament for the issues of rehabilitation to be looked at before he can sign it into law,” Walusimbi added.
Homosexuality is already illegal in the East African country under a colonial-era law criminalising sex acts “against the order of nature”. The punishment for that offence is life imprisonment.
Museveni is under pressure from the international community to veto the bill, which needs his signature to become law.
The United States has warned of economic consequences if the legislation is enacted. A group of United Nations experts has described the bill, if enacted, as “an egregious violation of human rights”.
Amnesty International in a statement earlier on Thursday had urged Museveni to veto what the group described as a “draconian and overly broad” bill.
“The passing of this appalling bill is a heart-breaking moment for the LGBTI community and their loved ones in Uganda,” Agnes Callamard, the group’s leader, said in the statement. “Nobody should ever be criminalized for their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The bill enjoys wide support in Uganda, including among church leaders and others who have called for a harsh new law targeting homosexuals. It was introduced by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ activities in the country.
Only two of 389 legislators present for the voting session opposed the bill.
The bill prescribes the death penalty for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality,” and life imprisonment for “homosexuality”.
Aggravated homosexuality is defined as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people.
Jail terms of up to 20 years are proposed for those who advocate or promote the rights of LGBTQ people.
A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be jailed for 14 years and the offence of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years, according to the bill.
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has grown in recent weeks amid press reports alleging sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious one for boys where a parent accused a teacher of abusing her son.