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Gays in Africa face growing persecution, human rights activists say

Targets for violence

Sheila Hope Mugisha is a lesbian who was named in an article urging readers to hang homosexuals in Rolling Stone, a Ugandan tabloid which has no affiliation with the American music magazine. Mugisha says neighbors attacked her with stones after the article was published.

On Oct. 2, Rolling Stone published an article under the headline "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Leak." The subhead read, "Hang Them."

The tabloid published people's addresses and hangouts. Alongside a large photograph of her, the article described Mugisha as a predator who targeted children. Then it told readers where she lived.

It was the latest in a string of assaults over her life. When she was 16, Mugisha said, a neighbor raped her after he saw that she was not interested in boys.

"He wanted to teach me how to play with boys," Mugisha recalled.

She became pregnant and had an abortion. Her rapist also infected her with HIV, she said. "I nearly tried to kill myself," said Mugisha, wiry with short-cropped hair and dressed in blue jeans, a red-checkered shirt and a baseball cap.

Three weeks after the Rolling Stone article, another tabloid, Red Pepper, said she had dated more than half the women in Uganda and published a photo that appeared to show her kissing her partner. She received harassing phone calls. Her uncle stopped talking to her.

"If the bill becomes a law, I have to find a way to leave Uganda," Mugisha said.

Mugisha sought the help of an advocacy group that helped her sneak out of her neighborhood and move to a secret location in another neighborhood.

Jacqueline Kasha, another gay rights activist, said recent victims included a lesbian in the northern Ugandan city of Lira who was doused with gasoline by her neighbors. They were about to set her on fire when community leaders intervened. Many other gays have gone into hiding, Kasha said.

She is one of them. To travel around Kampala, she uses a taxi driver she trusts. She avoids the market and other crowded places. She rarely goes to her office.

Moses Solomon Male, a pastor, said gays were exaggerating their plight to get more funding from Western rights groups and seek asylum in the United States and Europe.

"Homosexuality is not inborn," he said. "So it's not inherent as a right."

Kasha and Onziema have taken Rolling Stone to court, seeking to stop it from publishing more anti-gay articles. In a packed courtroom last month, their attorney argued that the stories violated constitutional rights of privacy, dignity and right to life.

A decision is expected Dec. 13. Meanwhile, the magazine has kept attacking gays.

"The world is under siege by homosexuals," Muhame said. "They want to control the world, and they are starting with Africa."

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