Proponents of anti-gay legislation being introduced in Uganda look set to lose the battle to introduce the death sentence for what they describe as "aggravated homosexuality".
In its original form, the bill – first proposed in October 2009 – called for the the death penalty for "serial offenders", for active homosexuals living with HIV, and for same-sex rape. But one of the bill's backers, the pastor Martin Ssempa, this week said gays should face imprisonment rather than the death penalty.
"The parliament should be given the opportunity to discuss and pass the bill, because homosexuality is killing our society," Mr Ssempa told the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee on Monday, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Similarly, David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who proposed the private member's bill, told AP last month that the death penalty provision was "something we have moved away from".
When the bill first surfaced, it caused international uproar, such that several Western donor nations threatened to curtail or withdraw their aid to Uganda if it passed into law.
Until the hearings this week, the legislation appeared to have been quietly shelved.But some legislators have indicated the bill could pass into law before the end of the parliamentary session this week. Others, however, believe there is insufficient time left.
As in many African countries, in Uganda homosexuality is unacceptable to many, and is widely considered a Western, "un-African" import. Despite the international uproar, the anti-gay bill would find substantial public support in the conservative country, where 85 per cent of the population of 32 million are Christian and 12 per cent are Muslim.
In October last year, a Ugandan tabloid newspaper Rolling Stone – no relation to the American publication of the same name – published a list of the country's "top 100 homosexuals" complete with photographs, addresses, and the strap-line: "Hang Them". One of those named in the list, the gay-rights activist David Kato, was beaten to death with a hammer in January in his home town of Mukono.
The introduction of the anti-gay bill in 2009 also followed the visit of evangelical American pastors to Uganda, who decried the gay movement and claimed to be able convert homosexuals into straight men and women.
The New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released a statement on Friday condemning the proposed Ugandan law. "We are shocked that after more than two years of engagement with the government of Uganda about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, this heinous piece of legislation may still become law," the statement read.
"Governments, world religious and political leaders, and HIV-prevention experts have all appealed to Ugandan parliamentarians to put their distaste and fear of LGBT people aside and use their better judgment for the good of the country," it added.