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Uganda to clamp Internet after gay-rights hacking

Uganda vowed to tighten its Internet security after government websites were hacked earlier this week. A proposed bill that calls for the death penalty for those caught in homosexual acts has sparked outrage.

Gay rights activists hacked several Ugandan government websites to denounce what they perceive to be the harassment of homosexuals in the east African nation of more than 35 million.

"Message to the government of Uganda: you want to put people to death only because they have different likings," read one message posted on the website of the Uganda Law Society on Thursday.

A Ugandan government statement said a hacker with the Twitter handle @PinkNinj4 defaced several government websites, including those of the prime minister's office, parliament, the Uganda Securities Exchange and Uganda Law Society.

"Hijacking our websites and using strategies of blackmail to promote their dark agendas is unacceptable to us," said government spokesperson Karoro Okurut.

On Friday, the government promised to beef up online security.

"Our first priority is to apply all necessary resources to give all institutions, the tools, processes and support they require to strengthen the security of their IT systems in case of any incident," the Ugandan National Information Technology Authority said in a statement.

A hacked posting on the website of prime minister Amama Mbabazi Thursday contained a fake press release announcing the prime minister's support for a gay pride parade.

"We have got to expel the narrow mindedness from this country, and begin afresh, starting with a full and formal apology to all homosexuals living in Uganda today," the statement said. It was removed by Friday.

"Odious" legislation

Debate has raged over a controversial bill codenammed LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) that initially called for the hanging of individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity more than once. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda.

Thirty-year-old Ugandan lesbian women Diane Bakuraira (right) and her twenty four-year-old girlfriend Angella (left) sit outside to have a drink at FARUG (Freedom and Roam Uganda) office in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda's capital, July 30, 2010.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda for both genders

Currently before a parliamentary committee, progress on the bill seems to have stalled - but that hasn't stopped debate.

Denounced as "odious" by US President Barack Obama, the proposed bill has been widely condemned outside Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in 37 countries.

Obama's opposition to the bill is shared by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who earlier this month praised Ugandan gay rights activists for their bravery.

"It is critical for all Ugandans - the government and citizens alike - to speak out against discrimination, harassment, and intimidation of anyone," Clinton said. "That's true no matter where they come from, what they believe, or whom they love."

The bill would also mandate the death penalty for those who engage in same-sex sexual activity with a minor, or those who have HIV - the virus that causes AIDS.

Few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and the loss of jobs. Media often "out" people suspected of being homosexual. In 2006, Ugandan newspaper The Red Pepper published a list of the first names and professions of 45 allegedly gay men, many of whom purportedly suffered harassment as a result. In 2010 Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone published the full names, addresses, and photographs of 100 allegedly gay Ugandans, accompanied by a call for their execution.

Same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal in most African nations. Female same-sex sexual activity, however, is legal in some - such as Ghana, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. South Africa is the only country in Africa to legally recognize same-sex marriages.

bm/ipj (AFP, Reuters)