Uganda passed an anti-gay bill yesterday, imposing life sentences for some homosexual acts, leading activists to call it "the worst in the world".
In a move that was branded "a truly terrifying day for human rights", MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill.
It has been widely condemned by activists and world leaders, with US president Barack Obama describing the bill as "odious" and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate, comparing it to apartheid.
The bill does not include the death penalty, as it did for "aggravated homosexual acts" when first tabled in 2009.
Instead, those caught engaging in homosexual acts for a second time, as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or is infected with HIV, will face life in prison.
Ugandan media reported that a proposal for a reduced 14-year sentence was rejected by MPs, who instead upheld the penalty of life imprisonment.
David Bahati, the MP behind the private member's bill, hailed its adoption as a victory against "evil" in Uganda, a deeply religious country where many have embraced evangelical Christianity. "Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way," he said yesterday. "It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks."
The bill must receive final approval from Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan president.
As in many African countries, gay men and women in Uganda face harassment, violence and death threats.
After the vote, Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda's most prominent gay activists, declared himself "officially illegal".
"This is a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda," he said. "If this law is signed by President Museveni, I'd be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed. We urgently need world leaders to call on President Museveni and demand he stops this bill of hate from becoming law."
Mr Mugisha told reporters there was "panic" among the country's gay and lesbian community.
"I'm outraged that members of parliament have passed this bill in a very uninformed way. It has been rushed. It has not been scrutinised," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London).