Targeted by gay-hate paper, then murdered in his home

Death of Ugandan homosexual rights activist followed threats and intimidation

A prominent gay rights activist, whose photo was printed on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper that called for homosexuals to be hanged, was bludgeoned to death at his home after weeks of death threats and harassment, colleagues said yesterday.

David Kato, one of a small number of openly gay campaigners in a country where homosexuality is illegal, was beaten with a hammer just three weeks after winning a court case against the newspaper. The victory prevented the publication from repeating stories similar to one in October that urged: "Hang Them" alongside a headline: "100 pictures of Uganda's top homos leak".

Amnesty International called for a "credible and impartial" investigation, saying the authorities had been silent about anti-gay discrimination.

Police said last night there was no indication the murder had anything to do with Mr Kato's sexual orientation and that he was killed by robbers responsible for the deaths of more than 10 people in the area in the past two months. One man had been detained and the weapon recovered; another was being hunted, the spokesman said.

A cleaner found Mr Kato barely alive on his bed with a trail of blood through his home suggesting that he had been attacked in one room and had unsuccessfully tried to flee, friends said. He died of head injuries on the way to hospital.

Mr Kato had featured prominently in the homophobic edition of the Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone. Friends and fellow campaigners told The Independent yesterday that he had been subjected to weeks of abuse, death threats and confrontations. Others featured on the list in the Rolling Stone – not connected to the US publication – have been driven out of their homes by stone-throwing mobs.

"There's been fear, but it's now reached a new level," said Pepe Julian Onziema, a fellow rights campaigner and one of two other people who brought the case against the newspaper. "People are really, really scared.

"Throughout the court case David was receiving threats, there were text messages and phone calls. I spoke to him less than an hour before he died to talk about security because we're all being harassed. Then I called him an hour later and his phone was off."

As well as naming gay Ugandans and printing their addresses, the newspaper also claimed in October that a deadly disease was attacking homosexuals, and that gays were recruiting one million children by raiding schools.

After Wednesday's killing, Giles Muhame, the editor of Rolling Stone, condemned the murder and said the paper had not wanted gays to be attacked. "If he has been murdered, that's bad and we pray for his soul," Muhame told Reuters. "There has been a lot of crime, it may not be because he is gay. We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them. We said they should be hanged, not stoned or attacked."

The article and the subsequent attacks are symptomatic of embedded anti-homosexuality in the conservative country where 85 per cent of the population are Christian. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 countries in Africa.

Mr Kato was a vocal opponent of a controversial bill that was introduced in parliament and proposed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. It sparked widespread international condemnation and has not come up for vote. However the bill has been blamed for increasing anger against the homosexual community in Uganda.

The bill was drawn up after a visit to a conference in Uganda by Christian missionaries from the US who believed that some homosexuals could change their sexual orientation through prayer.

"David's death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by US evangelicals in 2009," according to a statement from Sexual Minorities Uganda, for whom Mr Kato worked as an advocacy officer. "The Ugandan government and the so-called US Evangelicals must take responsibility for David's blood."

Pepe Onziema claimed yesterday that police did not arrive and start their investigation until hours after Mr Kato's death. "Any persons suspected of involvement in the murder must be brought to justice in a fair trial which complies with international standards," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Africa said.

Friends and colleagues described Mr Kato as a outspoken and brave campaigner. "He was one of the people who hadn't moved out of his home," said Dr Chris Dolan, from the Refugee Law Project in Kampala, which worked on the case against Rolling Stone. "His landlord had asked him to move out. That's what often happens once anyone is known to be gay because they're worried their property might be damaged."

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