KAMPALA, Uganda -- The mocking of a Ugandan imam who unknowingly married a man in a Muslim ceremony highlights intolerance in the East African country, a gay rights activist said Thursday.
The imam, who says he did not know his partner was male, has been suspended from clerical duty and his partner charged with committing an “unnatural” offense.
On social media, many Ugandans have mocked the imam as a suspected homosexual who is not being truthful.
Frank Mugisha, who runs the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told The Associated Press the case proved “how homophobic the country is."
“The imam could be right when he says he didn't know,” he said. “Ugandans should respect people's privacy. They are not necessarily homosexuals."
Mugisha said it was not clear whether the imam's partner is transgender, one reason his group had decided not to release a statement regarding the case.
It was not possible to talk to the imam or his partner, who was arrested days after the ceremony for alleged theft of a TV in the central Ugandan district of Kayunga, where the marriage took place weeks ago.
The local Daily Monitor newspaper reported that a female police officer reported the suspect as male after conducting a body search. The newspaper report included the account of a cleric at the imam's mosque who said the imam needed counselling after his bride "refused to undress while they slept.”
Gay sex is criminalized in Uganda, where there have been efforts in recent years to enact stiffer penalties targeting homosexuals, including death by hanging. Many Ugandans believe homosexuality is imported from the West.
A harsh anti-gay law enacted in 2014 was later overturned by a panel of judges amid international pressure and threats of aid cuts. In enacting that law, President Yoweri Museveni accused “arrogant and careless Western groups” of trying to recruit Ugandan children into homosexuality, although he did not identify the groups.
According to Human Rights Watch, 32 African nations have varying laws criminalizing homosexuality. In many cases the anti-gay laws are left over from the colonial era.