Scotland has proposed a plan to offer asylum to “any Ugandan” persecuted by the country’s new anti-gay laws, Scottish daily The Herald reported on Friday.
Humza Yusuf, Scotland’s Minister for External Affairs, submitted a letter to U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague outlining the proposal and urging him "to offer asylum to any Ugandans who feel threatened or persecuted by the legislation.”
“Scotland will play her part in providing asylum for those seeking refuge from this draconian legislation,” Yusuf wrote.
Uganda’s new law, enacted by president Yoweri Museveni on Monday, calls for life imprisonment for those convicted of engaging in gay sex and creates the offenses of "conspiracy to commit homosexuality" and "aiding and abetting homosexuality," both of which are punishable by seven years behind bars. Those convicted of "promoting homosexuality" face similar punishment.
While widely popular within Uganda, the law has spurred several European countries to curtail aid to the Ugandan government. Uganda has also been hit with harsh rebuke from world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who called the legislation “a step backward” and warned that it might “complicate our valued relationship.”
Scotland’s offer of asylum responds to fears from gay activists in Uganda that the law could license anti-gay Ugandans to partake in a witch-hunt against the country’s sexual minorities.
In 2011, prominent gay activist David Kato was murdered shortly after being identified as gay in a Ugandan tabloid. On Tuesday, another tabloid published a list of the nation’s “200 top homosexuals,” spurring fears that others might be similarly targeted.
There is precedent in the U.K. for offering asylum to gay people who face persecution in their home countries. A landmark 2010 ruling from the U.K. Supreme Court said that it would be unreasonable to return two gay men to their home countries of Cameroon and Iran, where homosexuality is forbidden, because they should not be required to keep their sexual orientation hidden.
Scotland’s asylum offer comes ahead of this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, which a Ugandan government delegation is set to attend. Of the Commonwealth’s 54 member nations, a whopping 41 have laws banning homosexuality, which in many cases dates back to British Empire legislation that was never repealed.
The Kaleidoscope Trust, a gay rights advocacy group, encouraged Scotland to use the Commonwealth Games as a platform to address regressive anti-gay laws in its participating states.
“We have always felt the Games had an important part to play in tackling the scandal of LGBT abuses in the Commonwealth and welcome the Scottish government taking the bull by the horns," the group told The Herald.
As of Friday afternoon, the U.K. Foreign Office had not yet received Scotland’s letter.
“We will continue to press the government of Uganda to defend human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds,” Hague said in an earlier statement.