Saturday, December 19, 2009

Uganda Uprising - BBC Debates

As the anti-homosexual laws are moving closer to reality, the BBC decided to ask their audience to give their opinion on whether gays should be executed for their sexuality. This brought about many complaints, which the BBC defended their right to discuss such a topic openly, but then later retracted and apologized.

Read on below for the latest from Uganda, and the BBC....

In an interview with a U.S. religious publication, the Church of Uganda’s assistant bishop of Kampala defended his country’s proposed law that would inflict the death penalty on Ugandan gays who repeatedly share intimate contact with consensual adult partners and provide steep penalties for others, including heterosexuals who fail to report gay individuals or gay relationships to the authorities.

Media reports indicate that the government drew up the law after visits from anti-gay American religious conservatives. The argument from religious conservatives is that gays and lesbians can "convert" to heterosexuality--a claim that reputable mental health professionals view with skepticism, warning that so-called "conversion" or "reparative therapy" has the potential to harm, rather than help, those to whom it is subjected.

Though some American clergy have joined political and religious leaders from around the globe in condemning the measure as far too harsh, prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren drew headlines when he refused to denounce the proposed law.

The Ugandan government is slated to make a final decision on the proposed legislation next month. Meantime, protests have taken place in America, Britain, and elsewhere, and political leaders have warned that Uganda may be endangering relations with other nations, including countries that provide financial assistance to the African nation.

In an interview with the magazine Christianity Today posted Dec. 17, the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye suggested that foreigners had little place in Uganda’s internal legislative debate, saying, "Ambassadors or religious leaders serve us best by not going public, by simply relating to their individual relationships. If they have none, they have no legitimacy to speak. They should just be silent."

However, when asked about media reports that indicate that it was the influence of American religious conservatives that spurred the Ugandan government to draw up such draconian legislation, Niringiye said, "On the one hand, I have no respect for such innuendos because they are suggesting that Christians in Uganda are puppets and so forth. Are there American influences in Uganda? Yes. There is no question that there is a strong homosexual lobby supported by Western groups. That is one of the reasons for the bill.

"We [also] have influences from the Muslim world," Niringiye said. "Let’s not give too much credit to the West. This is a global environment. The influences are on either side."

But Niringiye played down the influences from abroad with respect to the bill, saying, "There is a genuine Ugandan call of distaste that seeks to say, ’Our culture is under assault.’ There are Ugandans who say we need to stand against a moral tide that seeks to change our ethical, moral values. The decay in Western culture is reflected in its sexual ethics.

"For me, I would like to act here in our culture. We must deal with corruption in our culture as you do in Western culture. They are not the same magnitude, but they still reflect the decay in culture. For us in Uganda, we have to ask, ’How do we act in a way that protects our culture from the decay in sexual ethics that has happened in the West?’ That is the challenge for Christian mission in our context. We have a serious responsibility to nurture younger generations. We have a lot of work in our churches to fight the media wars. Media is one huge influence in the cultural decay."

The bill’s criminalization of homosexuality and its stipulation of death as a punishment for some gay "offenders" were consistent with other laws in Uganda, Niringiye said. "The law on rape in this country (and I am not stating a position, I’m stating a fact) has a maximum sentence of death, particularly if it is rape of a minor. Therefore, there is the idea that the law that is proposed needs to be [consistent] with other laws on the books."

Added Niringiye, "The background of the law is that there is increasing reporting of homosexual practice. There is definitely a sense that the international homosexual lobby is pushing for homosexual practice to be accepted as normal. Therefore, [they] use the idea of human rights for the protection of minorities. They say that these minorities have a right to this moral choice. It’s important to realize that within the culture, homosexuality is not acceptable."

Niringiye pointed out that adultery is also illegal in Uganda, making the criminalization of sex between unmarried individuals of the same gender consistent with the law--although the law also denies gay and lesbian couples the right to formalize their relationship through marriage. However, Niringiye said that his own opinion was that no crime justified the death penalty. "The Church in Uganda has never given an official position on the death penalty," he noted. "My considered reading of Scripture and my considered understanding of today’s culture is that the application of the Scripture, the application of the spirit of the Scripture in today’s time would seem to disallow death as a legitimate penalty for any offense."

Niringiye has previously spoken out against the death penalty, addressing a congregation on Christmas, 2007, with an anecdote about how convicted killer and death row inmate John Katuramu--who had been a prime minister of a Ugandan province before being found guilty in the murder of Charles Kijjanangoma, a prince--had been transformed through religious faith while in prison. "Katuramu now has joy, peace, love and faith because he has been redeemed by Jesus Christ," Niringiye told the Christmas mass worshipers. "He told me that he may physically be living in Luzira [prison] but at heart, he is a free man."

Telling the congregation that there were "over 500 convicts on death row," Niringiye said, "Such people should be given a chance to live a new life."

In his interview with Christianity Today, Niringiye addressed the fact that the Bible appears to advocate death for various infractions. "We will not deny that the Scriptures seem to allow the death penalty," Niringiye said. "In the culture in which the Scriptures were written it seems that there was an allowance. I would say that in applying the same Scripture today, it seems that the culture is so different from then that we would say [we need] the application of the principle of grace. My view is that the death penalty is not a legitimate sentence for any offense, including murder and so on. But there is no Christian consensus on the legitimacy of the death penalty."

When asked about how Christians in Uganda viewed the bill, Niringiye indicated that the issues went beyond religious affiliation. "This is not just a Christian response" he said. "I can certainly say the objectives of the bill have the total support of most of Uganda, not just Christians, but also Muslims and Roman Catholics. It would not be right to talk about how Christians feel," Niringiye added. "They’re all agreed on the objectives. There will be a difference of opinion on the details of the bill."

Niringiye went on to say, "The point I’m making is that Christians in the country, including other people in the culture, really support the objectives of the bill. When it comes to the issue of the death penalty, there is as much debate over the death penalty as there are different Christian persuasions. The discussion on the death penalty [in this bill] needs to be separated from [the question] ’Is the death penalty [ever] an acceptable sentence?’ I am sure there are American Christians or others in the world who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say the death penalty is an acceptable sentence. There will be Christians in Uganda who will say no, the death penalty is not an acceptable sentence for any offense."

The bishop went on to suggest that Americans had little basis for objecting to the law, saying that "Western society and culture has lost some of its moral foundations.

"In Western society, homosexuality is accepted as one of the ways of expressing human sexuality. It is very important that you understand the context," Niringiye went on to note. "I would debate Western societies which are putting judgments on our laws to first and foremost critique your own cultures. In my own view, Western society has lost its moral fiber.... For me, the greater issue for Western societies, Ugandan societies, and African societies is to ask the question about cultures. To what extent do cultures decay and cease to reflect the will of God? You must go beyond laws. Laws simply reflect where societies are at. For me, this is the debate. It is not right that Western societies should impose cultural norms and values upon us. The issue of acceptance of homosexuality has a lot to do with the loss of moral and ethical values."

As to input from Christians of any stripe from outside Uganda, Niringiye said, "[T]o be honest, to all-whether they are American Christians, whether they are liberals, whoever they are-I think you’ve got to trust the leadership in this country, both the Christians and our legislating processes. The international community is behaving like they can’t trust Ugandans to come up with a law that is fair. ’No! No! That is not fair!’ When the Western governments or Western churches or Christians speak loudly about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this bill, you actually begin to fuel the idea that homosexuality is the product of Western culture.

"Western homosexual groups are seeking to make homosexuality an acceptable practice here," continued Niringiye. "In these attempts by churches or Christian leaders to speak in favor or against, they seem to indicate we don’t know what we want for our own society. I would plead with governments and the Rick Warrens of this world, ’Don’t make any public pronouncements about this bill. Allow Ugandan society to be able to pronounce itself on what Ugandans feel would be good.’

"None of the American evangelicals have ever spoken first about the fact that rape is punishable by death in this country," noted the bishop. "Suddenly, because of homosexuality, the issue has arisen. Why? The homosexual lobby is very, very active in making the homosexual issue a human rights issue. How long shall we keep speaking about human rights? When shall we speak about human wrongs?"

Although Niringiye seemed to appeal to higher ideals--holiness, justice--in defending his government’s contemplation of the bill, he added, "I don’t want us to confuse the church for the kingdom of God. The church is not always a manifestation of the kingdom of God. Sometimes the church is a sign of the kingdom of God. Other times, the church is a cultural sign, pointing away from the kingdom of God.

"It does not mean every time someone is speaking in the name of Christ, they may even invoke the name of Christ; it’s not always the case," Niringiye continued. "For Christians, find ways you can encourage us, engage with us, in being witnesses to the kingdom of God in our culture. Is your culture in decay? Yes. Are there aspects of our culture that are in decay? Yes."


The British Broadcasting Corp. suffered criticism from lawmakers for inviting debate on whether homosexuals should face execution in Uganda.

The broadcaster launched an on-line debate over a proposed Ugandan law that would punish some homosexual acts by life imprisonment or death. Legislation being considered in the African country would impose the death penalty on some gay Ugandans, and their family and friends could face up to seven years in jail if they fail to report their homosexuality to authorities.

BBC’s "Africa Have Your Say" Web site asked for people’s views on whether Uganda has gone too far and whether there should be any laws against gays.

The page’s title was originally "Should homosexuals face execution?" but was later changed to "Should Uganda debate gay execution?" Several British politicians said the taxpayer-funded broadcaster should not treat the execution of gays as a legitimate topic for discussion.

"We should be looking at what is going on in Uganda with abhorrence," said lawmaker Eric Joyce of the ruling Labour Party. "We should be condemning it, and the BBC should be condemning it. ... Instead it seems to have thought it appropriate to come up with something that suggests it’s a subject for discussion."

Lynne Featherstone, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democrats, said she has written to BBC executives seeking an apology and an end to the Web discussion.

"Suggesting that the state-sponsored murder of gay people is OK as a legitimate topic for debate is deeply offensive," she said.

The forum attracted more than 600 comments and triggered a lively Twitter discussion.

The BBC’s World Service Africa program editor, David Stead, defended the debate. In a blog posted on the BBC Web site, he said editors had "thought long and hard about using this question" and sought to reflect the diverse views about homosexuality in Africa.

"We agree that it is a stark and challenging question, but think that it accurately focuses on and illustrates the real issue at stake," he said.

The director of the BBC World Service has apologised for the offence caused by a debate on its website yesterday asking readers to debate whether gays should be executed.

In a statement published on the BBC Editors' Blog today, Peter Horrocks apologised but added that it was a "legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion".

The debate was on Uganda's proposed anti-gay bill, which could see gays and lesbians executed. A number of BBC online readers said the bill should be passed.

He wrote: "The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it's important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.

"The programme was a legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion about proposed legislation that advocates the death penalty for those who undertake certain homosexual activities in Uganda – an important issue where the BBC can provide a platform for debate that otherwise would not exist across the continent and beyond."

One reader questioned why he had used the phrase "undertake certain homosexual activities", saying: "What? Like window dressing and hair styling?"

Horrocks also told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme today: "The main way in which people have responded to this is because the headline was extracted and circulated through social media and people responded to that. That is something quite new and its something we have to think quite carefully about, when things are taken out of context how do they seem," he said. "We need learn from that and that is the change were are seeing."

News of the debate quickly spread around Twitter yesterday afternoon, with readers asking whether the BBC would allow topics such as the extermination of Jews in World War II.

Yesterday afternoon, the BBC changed the question to 'Should Uganda debate gay execution?' after lobbying from BBC Pride, the state broadcaster's LGBT society.

The debate was raised by parliament by Labour MP Eric Joyce, while Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone called on the BBC to apologise.

The National Union of Journalists has also attacked the BBC.

At an emergency meeting of the World Service news and current affairs chapel of the union late yesterday, it issued a statement saying the post was "overly sensationalist" and could encourage homophobia.

Minister for Europe Chris Bryant has attacked the BBC for holding a debate on whether gays should be executed.

Bryant, who is gay, told he would be writing to the BBC's World Service director Peter Horrocks to demand an explanation, adding that the online debate could lead to further homophobic hatred.

The Have Your Say question, posted on Tuesday evening, read: "Should homosexuals face execution?".

A number of readers agreed that the proposed bill in Uganda, which would impose the death penalty on gays, would be a good idea.

Bryant said: "I will be writing to Peter Horrocks to ask him to explain how the BBC could have made such as ludicrous mistake.

"I will be asking him in the strongest terms to explain."

He said he was "flabbergasted" to hear of the debate question on the taxpayer-funded broadcaster's website, adding: "How insensitive could the BBC possibly be? If they want to stoke homophobic hatred, this would be the right way."

He added that the British foreign ministry campaigns against the death penalty around the world, including in Uganda.

Horrocks wrote a short apology for the debate on the BBC's World Service editors' blog today. He apologised for the offence caused but reiterated previous BBC statements that the question was designed to provoke discussion of an important topic.

News of the debate quickly spread around Twitter yesterday afternoon, with readers asking whether the BBC would allow topics such as the extermination of Jews in World War II.

On Wednesday afternoon, the BBC changed the question to 'Should Uganda debate gay execution?' after lobbying from BBC Pride, the state broadcaster's LGBT society.

The debate was raised by parliament by Labour MP Eric Joyce, while Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone called on the BBC to apologise.

The National Union of Journalists has also attacked the BBC.

At an emergency meeting of the World Service news and current affairs chapel of the union late yesterday, it issued a statement saying the post was "overly sensationalist" and could encourage homophobia.

BBC editors have defended allowing online readers to debate whether gays in Uganda should be executed, saying they accepted it was a "challenging question".

The discussion, on the broadcaster's Have Your Say feature, asked: "Should homosexuals face execution?"

The debate centres on Uganda, where an anti-gay bill is passing through parliament. It would impose execution or life imprisonment on gays, its sponsor David Bahati MP says.

Some commentators on the site, from both the UK and Africa, had agreed with the country's proposed law.

It was closed at around 4pm this afternoon after provoking a storm of anger on Twitter.

A number of readers emailed to complain that the question was offensive, arguing that readers would not be asked to debate the extermination of Jews in World War II.

On Twitter, users attacked the BBC for allowing the debate to be held and several claimed to have reported the broadcaster to police for "hate crimes".

By way of comment, a BBC press officer cited a blog written by World Service Africa Have Your Say editor David Stead.

He said that editors of the programme thought "long and hard" about posing the question and added it prompted "a lot of internal debate".

Stead wrote: "We agree that it is a stark and challenging question, but think that it accurately focuses on and illustrates the real issue at stake.

"If Uganda's democratically elected MPs vote to proceed with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill this week they will bring onto the statute book legislation that could condemn people to death for some homosexual activities.

"We published it alongside clear explanatory text which gave the context of the bill itself. And as we said at the top of our debate page, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind the bill.

"This issue has already sparked much debate around the world and understandably led to us receiving many emails and texts. We have sought to moderate these rigorously while at the same time trying to reflect the varied and hugely diverse views about homosexuality in Africa."

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone has demanded an apology from the BBC for allowing readers to debate the topic.

Featherstone, the party's youth and equality spokeswoman, said she had written to the Director General to demand action on the topic.

She said: "I would be the first person to stand up for open debate and free speech, but any conversation that starts 'should homosexuals face execution' is completely skewed and unacceptable in this forum.

"Suggesting that the state-sponsored murder of gay people is OK as a legitimate topic for debate is deeply offensive. The BBC are only fanning the flames of hatred as many of the comments demonstrate. They must act and apologise for their gross insensitivity."

Updates from December 22nd, 2009

The President of Uganda has threatened to veto the a controversial new bill that could see homosexuals sentenced to the death penalty or lifetime imprisonment.

US newspaper DC Agenda claims that President Yoweri Museveni pledged to US secretary of state for African affairs Jonnie Carson on two separate occasions that he would reject the bill currently making its way through parliament.

The bill's sponsor, David Bahati MP, has argued that it will curb HIV infections and protect the "traditional family".

It has been subject to worldwide condemnation and since the first reports emerged in mid-October, has received widespread media attention.

UK prime minister Gordon Brown told President Museveni last month of his concerns and the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have said that Uganda may lose the chance to host an important permanent Aids research organisation if the bill is passed.

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