"They're going to arrest us because I can't pretend to be what I'm not," said Alex, 19, a gay man in Uganda, where parliament recently passed an anti-homosexuality law described as one of the of the most repressive in the world.
This legislation, officially known as the "Anti-Homosexuality Law 2023", has yet to be signed by President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1986. The UN and the United States have called on the leading to reject it.
The law was passed by parliament on March 21 in a heated session, with numerous amendments, and neither lawmakers nor analysts know exactly what the legislation provides.
But according to LGBT rights activists, if Yoweri Museveni ratifies this law, anyone who engages in homosexual acts could be sentenced to life in prison. And the death penalty is provided for in case of recidivism.
Included in Ugandan law, the death penalty has not been applied for years.
Little comfort for members of the LGBT community in Uganda, like Alex whose name, like the others, has been changed for security reasons.
From border Kenya to South Africa via Europe and North America, many Ugandans have already gone into exile long before the law was passed.
"I would love to leave Uganda," Alex, who shares a small apartment on the outskirts of Kampala with three people, the curtains still drawn to avoid prying eyes, told AFP.
"I don't know if I'm safe and I don't deserve to die to be what I want to be," he continues.
"On the other hand, I feel like we're supposed to fight for our freedom (...) otherwise who's going to fight for our freedom?"
A previous anti-homosexuality law enacted in 2014 by Mr. Museveni had pushed Western countries to reduce their international aid. The Ugandan Constitutional Court had finally canceled this law for a technical defect during the vote.
Yoweri Museveni must now arbitrate between the support of his population for this law, and the risks of international banishment.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk denounced a law "probably among the worst of its kind in the world". The United States, for its part, threatened the authorities in Kampala with "repercussions", in particular economic.
In recent months, religious and political leaders have shared baseless conspiracy theories about gay people, including accusations of attacking children at the behest of dark international forces.
"Ugandans have been radicalised, the situation is worse" than in 2014, Franck Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights organization whose activities have been suspended by the authorities, told AFP. 'last year.
"Before it was poor Ugandans who felt the most in danger and wanted to flee, now even wealthy people are being targeted," he says, citing the example of a boss who "warned an office worker that he would fire him if the president signed the law into law."
Countries in the region, such as Kenya or Tanzania, also suppress gay rights.
And exile in the West is not easy, even for those who have the money to finance the trip.
Philemon, a bar owner in Kampala, tried to leave Uganda to join his partner in Denmark but was twice refused a visa.
His partner used to visit him every six months, but he is now "too scared to come to Uganda", the 25-year-old told AFP.
"The law is very ambiguous," says John, a 26-year-old queer technician, who believes it provides the means "to exercise blackmail".
The legislation also puts the friends and family of LGBT Ugandans at risk, as it requires anyone who suspects someone "of intending to commit the offense of homosexuality" to report the matter to the police, under penalty of six months' imprisonment.
"My mom knows I'm gay. She supports me and worries about me, but if it becomes law, I just know she's going to abandon me," Alex says, crying.
"I was just starting to meet new people and get to know my sexuality, and then all of this" happened. "Don't I deserve to be happy?"
31/03/2023 11:15:03 - Kampala (AFP) © 2023 AFP