There are two possible motives for David Kato’s death, retaliation for a court judgment or as the police claim, he refused to pay for having sex with another man. The former is part of the wider culture of religiously influenced homophobia, while the latter, made out to be mundane, is being used as a cover for the former.
“I highly think his death is related to the homophobia from the religious groups and to winning the High Court judgment against the newspaper,” said Frank Mugisha, executive director, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).
Kato was brutally beaten over his head with a hammer in his home on January 25, and died shortly after on his way to hospital. Police reports state that Nsubuga Enock, also known as Sydney, was arrested and had confessed to the crime.
Against the backdrop of mounting international pressure to cancel the stalled anti-homosexuality bill which criminalizes anyone who is gay and tendered in parliament in 2009 by David Bahati, and scrutiny of abuses against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT), it seems apparent that the Ugandan authorities are deflecting the motive for Kato’s murder from one of retaliatory action for the High Court judgment and the virulent homophobia to besmirching his memory.
The Ugandan state police in a statement issued by Major General Kale Kayihura, Inspector General of Police, and published on the Uganda’s official Website on February 3, while carelessly mistyping the month of the occurrence as February instead of January, said that “Nsubuga on the 25th of February 2011 negotiated with the suspect to be paid money for using him as [a] sexual partner, but the promise was never fulfilled. He claimed the deceased convinced him to play sex with him in the night after making him drunk from a nearby pub. He claims he was provoked to hit the victim because he was demanding to play sex with him that afternoon and yet he was not interested in the same.”
The statement said that Nsubuga has a long criminal record. He was on remand for theft of a phone but also had other criminal records in his home area. The statement does not say whether or not Nsubuga participated in any sexual activity with Kato.
“Nsubuga confessed that he picked a hammer from the bathroom and hit him on the head, which resulted into his death. Nsubuga, further said that he locked the house and took off with some of the items belonging to the deceased,” the statement said. Senoga, a car driver who Kato frequently hired was also arrested and held for further questioning. He had visited the house earlier in the day and like Nsubuga, was seen by neighbors behaving suspiciously.
Kayihura said that investigations so far conducted show no indications that the deceased campaign against the Homosexuality Bill was a contributing factor to his death, “The police has not received any information pointing to a hate crime apart from speculation from the public. In addition, I request sections of the Clergy campaigning against homosexuality to exercise restraint.”
In response, Mugisha, who has known Kato for several years, since their years working together at Integrity Uganda, said, “It is highly unlikely that David would pay anyone for sex.”
As with many others who worked with SMUG, Kato often had to scrounge around for money to help bail people who were arrested, especially if they were LGBT, which meant that they would have been disowned by their families, and on their release from jail would have been homeless, said Mugisha. As part of his work, Kato, he said, had quite likely bailed Enock out of jail and since he was homeless, offered him a place to stay. He added that given the depth of his relationship with Kato, he would’ve known if anyone was staying with him in his home.
Contradicting Enock’s claims and the insinuations made by the police, Mugisha said, “Anyone who knew David knew that he didn’t have any money to promise anyone a house, car, as was reported. The media says David had a house and car, but all the stories are untrue. They are saying that David was trying to give money to a straight person and that SMUG and David were getting money from foreign sources, and that he had lots of money.”
But the story of Kato’s death could be traced back to Oct 2, 2010 when The Rolling Stone newspapers published photographs of Ugandans suspected of being gay with the headline “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos” and a banner “Hang Them”, which prominently featured retired Anglican bishop, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Kato side by side. It was as if they and the 98 others, including human rights activist Kasha Jacqueline and Pepe Onziema were suddenly marked as targets.
Even before the publication of Kato’s picture in the newspapers, his work as an advocacy and litigation officer for SMUG, who championed the cause of LGBT rights and in real ways the plight of many who were arrested and jailed, meant that he was the focus of many people’s attention and ire. According to Mugisha, a month before his demise Kato had told him that he was afraid for his safety.
Jacqueline, the founder and executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, on Feb 15 published a statement in the Kampala Dispatch. In it she said that Rolling Stone accused her of having held parties and orgies for homosexuals at her home and that she was involved in brainwashing children into being homosexual, and reputedly quoted her as saying, “We are targeting those as young as 12-years old, as they are easy to persuade to join gay groups.”
The accusation of influencing children to which Jacqueline refers was a tactic used by U.S. religious evangelists, including Scott Lively, who had visited Uganda in March 2009 and advised those who attended a workshop that gays and lesbians in Uganda are receiving funding from international organizations to turn their children gay, and that the gays and lesbians in Uganda are using money to buy, coerce and force children to become gay.
“I have never said such a thing. I have never even thought such a thing – and even if someone was throwing homosexual orgies at my house, they never invited me,” she said. Jacqueline added that those people whose pictures were published in the newspapers were attacked, had rocks thrown at them, many had to abandon their homes, and have gone into hiding in safe houses around the country. Because it was known that there would be no support or relief from the authorities, Jacqueline said they all were too afraid to file police reports.
It was in this atmosphere of homophobic hysteria stirred up by the newspapers that in November 2010 Kato, Jacqueline, and Onziema filed a suit in the Ugandan High Court against Rolling Stone on the grounds that whether gay or straight, all Ugandans have a right to privacy and safety against incitements to violence. Jacqueline said that while she never denied her sexual orientation in her affidavit, the issue concerned the rights that Ugandans should have to be protected from the incitement of violence and violation of their privacy, “No one should ever wake up and see a call for violence and his [or her] home address published in a newspaper.”
On his Facebook page, Giles Muhame, editor of the newspapers, issued a “press” statement where he repeated many unproven and unsubstantiated calumnies against Kato. Drawing on references of child corruption, he said that in the court case, a man named Kagaba swore that Kato “was seriously recruiting kids into homosexual circles,” and that Kato was fired from his job as head teacher of a Christian-founded school in Nkoni, Masaka District, likely because “he could have been sodomizing kids, including one Douglas whom he stayed with.”
Mugisha said that Kato was never fired from his position as head teacher of the school, but it was the naked homophobia, including being physically attacked, as the reason he never returned to the school. The members of SMUG, he added, now after Kato’s death, have to work even stronger, “We cannot give up. This death was an eye-opener for our security. We always underestimated our security. Before we never paid much attention to the church groups, but now we have to.”
Following filing the suit, Justice Kibuuka Musoke issued an injunction against the newspapers prohibiting it from publishing more photographs and awarded the plaintiffs 1.5M Ugandan Shillings ($640) as compensation. Muhame said the paper is appealing the ruling. But, according to Jacqueline, the proceedings turned ugly in December, when as well as being bodily mistreated by court officials, she was attacked by known anti-gay pastor Solomon Male. On Jan 3, she said the judge’s ruling “clarified a nuance of the law, that while certain homosexual acts may still be illegal, maintaining a homosexual identity is not. In Uganda, a person is free to identify themselves however they please, and cannot be persecuted for it. Therefore, a newspaper like The Rolling Stone cannot incite violence against innocent citizens, and cannot invade their privacy.”
As one whose face was plastered on the newspaper’s front page, Bishop Senyonjo on Feb 8 broke his silence surrounding Kato’s death and the High Court ruling. The bishop, a heterosexual married man, was forced to retire and was denied his pension by the Anglican diocese of Uganda because of his work with and for the LGBT community. In an open letter to Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, other primates, bishops, clergy and people of the diverse Anglican Communion, Bishop Senyonjo said, “A loving Anglican Communion should not keep quiet when the Rolling Stone tabloid in Uganda openly supports the “hanging of the homos,” including a fellow bishop who pleads for their inclusion and non-discrimination! Silence has the power to kill. We have witnessed its destruction this past week in the tragic and cruel murder of David Kato.”
The Bishop added that if Anglicans in one country dehumanize, persecute and imprison minorities, that people everywhere must be true to the Gospel and challenge such assaults on basic human rights.
“The key to our ministry must be to educate our people and encourage LGBT people to tell their stories and the impact of homophobia in their lives. Listening to the stories of LGBT people was the beginning of my own transformation,” he said.
Mugisha said that the virulent anti-gay pastor Martin Ssempa reportedly said that Kato was killed because he was living a dangerous life as a gay person.
The newspaper’s editor, in an interview with the Guardian Newspapers on Jan 27, said that he was sorry for Kato’s family and his death, repeated many unproven and unsubstantiated allegations surrounding Kato, “This looks like any other crime. I have no regrets about the story. We were just exposing people who were doing wrong.”
But in comments to his posting on Facebook, one person, Hyena Rubahoma said, “I highly doubt if that Kato guy was murdered, as said by the Police. Chances are 99.5% that he could have been excessively bum-drilled that he lost sense and later died. And besides, death of such evil guys reduces on the number of such evil activists.” As if agreeing, Muhame replied, “hehehe...that's a good one my dia friend....hehehe....”
The court verdict, Jacqueline said, has shown that indeed, justice is possible in this world and more so in this country. She added that as members of a marginalized community, many people have taken advantage of their oppression to satisfy their political, economic, and social greed and bigotry, “We are victims of oppression in so many ways. And for being just who we are, many have turned us into targets of oppression. But we refuse to be silent. The stories of people fighting against injustice have always been about a minority, because social justice struggles are fought by a minority for a majority.
“The court verdict reminded us all that Uganda is no place for hatred and impunity. Irresponsible journalism has no place in this country. The Rolling Stone tabloid and its editors may not have anticipated that they would be victims of their own actions, but we would never wish for or call for them to be “hanged”. A media that is based on untruthfulness is an enemy of the nation. Let this be the beginning of responsible journalism for justice and equality.
“But one verdict does not mean that we have won the struggle. We still have a lot of sensitizing to do, especially to the people in rural areas, before people fully understand just how big a lie The Rolling Stone published. We have to know that we are all different in many ways and that we cannot all be the same. My hope is that we can learn to live together in this beautiful country of our without stigma and discrimination, but with respect and tolerance.”
The editors of the Kampala Dispatch said that two weeks prior to publishing Jacqueline’s statement, they tried to obtain a comment from at least two people behind the anti-gay vitriol, Bahati and Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, who not returned any calls.