Ugandan court backs government’s refusal to register LGBT organisation

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 7:46 AM

KAMPALA (Reuters) – A Ugandan court on Tuesday dismissed a petition by an LGBT advocacy group seeking to compel the government to register it, a lawyer for the petitioner said.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) first filed the suit in the country’s high court in 2015 after the government’s registrar of companies refused to list it – which would allow the organisation to operate legally – saying its name was “undesirable”.

It also said at the time the organisation promoted the interests of people whose lifestyles were criminalised by Ugandan laws. In 2022, the Ugandan government suspended SMUG’s operations because it was not officially registered.

Same-sex relations have been illegal in Uganda since the British colonial era and the country enacted one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBT laws in May, outlawing the “promotion” of homosexuality.

The case decided on Tuesday was an appeal of a lower court judgment from 2018 that had ruled against SMUG, one of Uganda’s most prominent LGBT rights organisations.

“(The) court ruled that since the objectives of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) were actually to promote the rights and welfare of people whose conduct is criminalised under the laws of Uganda, then the registrar was right that the name was undesirable,” SMUG’s lawyer, Edward Ssemambo, told Reuters.

The appellate court that issued the judgment is the same that acts as the constitutional court expected to soon rule on a challenge to Anti-Homosexuality Act, which carries the death penalty for certain same-sex acts and terms of imprisonment up to 20 years.

A challenge to the law was argued before the court in December. LGBT rights activists say they expect a ruling soon.

Ssemambo said Tuesday’s ruling was “not reassuring” as the forthcoming ruling on the anti-LGBT law approached, although he said that petition touched on wider political and economic issues that could weigh on the judges’ deliberations.

(Editing by Aaron Ross and Lucy Marks)