“Anti-Gay” Pastors in Uganda Charged with Conspiracy to Slander Religious Leader

Jodi Jacobson

Eight people, including several religious figures active in Uganda's "anti-gay" movement, have been arrested on charges of conspiracy to injure the reputation of a rival religious leader, according to in-depth reports by Box Turtle Bulletin.

Eight people, including several religious figures active in Uganda’s “anti-gay” movement, have been arrested on charges of conspiracy to injure the reputation of a rival religious leader, according to in-depth reports by Box Turtle Bulletin.  Uganda has been widely condemned by the international human rights community for efforts by religious fundamentalists in the country–aided by their counterparts in the United States–to pass an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which calls for the death penalty and other heightened penalties for advocacy on behalf of LGBT people or for the failure to report gay people to police. In the current case, the eight in question are charged with falsely accusing another leader of engaging in sodomy.

Among those arrested is Martin Ssempa of Makerere Community Church, who gained international notoriety during the Bush Administration for his promotion of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, his virulently homophobic preachings, the support he received for his activities from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief under President Bush, and the fact that he became a darling of ultra-right conservatives such as Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.

The charges are related to what Box Turtle Bulletin (BTB) has dubbed the “pastor wars” in Uganda, an ongoing battle for prominence among religious leaders in the country who have taken to vilifying those leaders who they see as a threat to their power.  In this case, according to BTB, the eight are being charged with “conspiracy to injure the reputation of Pastor Robert Kayanja,” by charging him with sodomy.

The two in custody include anti-gay pastor Solomon Male, along with lawyer Henry Ddungu. Also charged are pastors Bob Robert Kayiira, Michael Kyazze and Martin Sempa, lawyer David Kaggwa, Deborah Kyomuhendo and David Mukalazi.

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In a climate that is highly charged with homophobia and the rush of powerful and narcissistic personalities jockeying for power, the rights and lives of gay, lesbian and transgender persons are being used as a tool in both religious disputes as well as political disputes.  Persons charged with homosexual activity are already subject to imprisonment and abuses of LGBT persons are well-documented.  In this case, religious leaders clearly are using a volatile situation to marginalize a political rival by claiming he engages homosexual activity. “Public charges of sodomy are a common way to settle political and other scores in Uganda,” notes BTB.

As was reported by BTB last year, the conspiracy unfolded this way:

Other pastors are jumping onto the “outing” bandwagon to settle scores as well, and the rivalries are so complex that it takes some diagramming to keep it all straight. Here goes: Pastor Solomon Male of Arise for Christ Ministry accused Pastor Robert Kayanja of the Rubaga Miracle Center Cathedral of being a homosexual, along with “a group of other pastors.” Kayanja’s Rubaga Miracle Center is a very large and prosperous megachurch in Kampala. (Controversial American faith healer Benny Hinn will present a “Fire Conference” at that church on June 5th and 6th.) But an apparent friend of Kayanjka, Pastor Joseph Serwadda of the Victory Christian Centre, another megachurch in the Ndeeba section of Kampala which operates two FM stations, accused Male of of being an impostor, saying that he doesn’t even have a church.

Kayanja’s personal aide, Chris Muwonge, was allegedly kidnapped and tortured by armed men and held for five days. His captors allegedly wanted him to make a video statement accusing Kayenja of molesting young boys. Kayanja accused his rival, Pastor Michael Kyazze of the Omega Healing Center of being behind the plot. Kyazze’s assistant, Pastor Robert Kayiira was arrested earlier for trying to sneak a laptop computer into Kayanja’s Miracle Center. His close friend? Pastor Solomon Male. Kayanja reportedly believes that Martin Ssempa is involved in the allegations against him as well.

And via BTB, the Daily Monitor provides more details into Ssempa’s role:

Meanwhile, Pastor Sempa is accused of hiring Robson Matovu to blackmail Pastor Kayanja. Court heard that Pastor Male reportedly gave Mr Matovu a signed and stamped affidavit implicating Pastor Kayanja while Samson Mukisa was reportedly promised necessities on condition that he would speak publicly on how Pastor Kayanja had sodomised him.

A police report indicates that complaints of sodomy against Pastor Kayanja did not reveal any evidence the offences. “In retracting their statements, the complainants said they had been mobilised to make false accusations against Pastor Kayanja in order to tarnish his name,” reads a report.

The government-owned New Vision is also prominently reporting the arrests as well, according to BTB:

In a letter to the director of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), principal state attorney Margaret Nakigudde said pastors Male, Martin Ssempa, Bob Kayira, Michael Kyazze, their lawyers, Henry Ddungu and David Kaggwa, together with David Mukalazi and Deborah Kyomuhendo face charges of conspiring to injure Pastor Kayanja’s reputation.

The two lawyers were included for allegedly commissioning false affidavits.

…Unconfirmed reports indicated that Police had earlier in the day been hunting for Pastor Ssempa, but he reportedly eluded them.

SIU head Grace Akullo said Male was arrested because he had failed to honour several Police summons.

Ssempa and others like him continue to receive support from groups in the United States such as the Family Research Council, which lobbied to stop the United States Congress from voting to condemn Uganda’s anti-gay legislation.  It is not clear whether Ssempa is still receiving U.S. government money through disbursements made in bilateral agreements to the government of President Youweri Mouseveni and then passed on to local groups.

Ab-only Leader Praises “Kill the Gays” Ugandan Minister

Nikki Serapio

Whether Mullarkey intended her statements to represent the official position of Project SOS or her own private reflections, they reveal the core beliefs of the leader of one of Florida's major abstinence-only-until-marriage institutions.

Originally published by AmplifyYourVoice.org.

Project SOS is a Jackonsville-based organization that has taught abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula to over 350,000 Florida students (according to its website) since its founding. In large part, it’s been able to do this because of federal funding: since 2002, the group has received more than $6.5 million from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, including a recent $454,000 grant received late last year.

Dr. Pam Mullarkey, Project SOS’s founder, is a particularly vocal opponent of reproductive freedom and comprehensive sex education. In a year when House Republicans are unashamedly propagating lies about Planned Parenthood (in order to defund the organization), it’s important to remember that there are people just like them in the field, sharing the same lies with countless families and young people. Here is what Mullarkey wrote about Planned Parenthood in 2009:

Just take a look at Planned Parenthood’s Web site for teens, called teenwire.com, and you will see their philosophy and understand their motives.
It is all about money.
Teens having sex is a big business.
Teens go to them to pay for contraception, STD testing, and when the contraception fails, they pay big bucks for abortions…

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Earlier this week, The Florida Independent reported on Mullarkey’s connection with Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan minister known for his extreme anti-gay views and his strident support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill — a measure that would make “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by death.

Ssempa includes this glowing endorsement from the Project SOS founder on his personal website:

“Martin Ssempa is the man to watch. He’s the most powerful voice for abstinence in the world and his passion, charisma and character make his vital message irresistible.”

After reading this statement, The Florida Independent’s Andy Kopsa contacted Mullarkey, emailing her links to video recordings and news articles in which he calls gay people “pedophiles,” among other insults.

The most amazing thing? Mullarkey responded to this not with outrage or even guarded concern — instead, she submitted what amounts to an unequivocal defense and additional endorsement of Ssempa and his views. She told The Independent that “I know Martin well enough to know that because of his Christian faith he would never support the death penalty” (which is either a disingenuous or completely obtuse statement, given that Ssempa clearly says that he supports the death penalty for certain LGBT Ugandans right on his website). She also celebrated Ssempa for his efforts using abstinence-only programming as a HIV/AIDS prevention mechanism, mentioning that “he had [Ugandan university students] burning condoms as a commitment to abstinence.”

Finally, in response to The Independent’s reminder that Ssempa has lost many of his family members to HIV/AIDS, Mullarkey gives us the hateful claim that gay Africans are responsible for “destroy[ing] people’s lives.”

And these are the leaders that our federal government supports and funds? Whether Mullarkey intended her statements to represent the official position of Project SOS or instead her own private reflections doesn’t really matter. Either way, they reveal the core beliefs, operational ideology, and true politics of someone who guides one of Florida’s major abstinence-only-until-marriage institutions.

It makes you wonder: Why, again, are U.S. tax dollars being funneled to these failed, ideologically driven abstinence-only programs?

  • If the federal government and Congress really believe in supporting effective youth sexual health initiatives that include information about contraception and condom use, why is it supporting an organization that is led by someone who celebrates burning condoms?
  • If the federal government and Congress really believe in reaching all young people — including LGBT youth — with vital sexual health information, why do they continue to support organizations like Project SOS, whose lesson plans include nothing for LGBT students, and whose founder blames gay people for “destroy[ing] lives” through HIV/AIDS transmission? (Personally, as someone who knows a few LGBT African human rights defenders who have risked their lives in order to stop anti-gay stigma and save the lives of their neighbors and friends, such a statement is the height of offensiveness.)

Ultimately, these are questions that can’t be answered with words and half-measures — they can only be answered via a clear policy corrective from our public officials. The case of Project SOS, its founder, and the apparently hundreds of thousands of students that have been exposed to its dangerous, myth-laden curricula is proof enough that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs should be completely abolished once and for all.

Roundup: More Anti-Abortion “Activist” Trials and an Interview With Dr. Hern

Robin Marty

Last week may have been a week of elections, but it was also a week of trials for anit-abortion "activists," and even more are coming this week.

Last week, we had an election.  But we also had the man who threatened late-term abortion provider Dr. Warren Hern and his family get off with five years probation.  And the man who conspired to bomb abortion clinics in North Carolina by providing how to’s on making homemade explosives pled guilty.

Now, the creator of the “Wanted” abortion providers posters is having his day in court, too.

Via NPR:

In North Carolina on Monday, anti-abortion activist Flip Benham, who is charged with stalking and violating a new state law against residential picketing, goes to court.

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He and his group, Operation Save America, put up Old West-style “wanted” posters targeting doctors who perform abortions. The group calls it free speech. Abortion rights activists say it’s a threat.

Targeted Picketing

Benham is a longtime anti-abortion activist. The posters he distributed earlier this year included the names, addresses and photos of four Charlotte, N.C., doctors who perform abortions.

Benham and his group took the posters to the doctors’ offices and to their neighborhoods. They placed the posters on cars and tacked them up on doors.

Detective Milton Harris with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department says this violated the state’s new law against targeting an individual at his home.

“By them handing out the flyers with doctors’ photos on it, it was an indication to us that they were actually singling those doctors out within that residential neighborhood to protest,” Harris says.

He also says that this is the first prosecution under the new law.

“The purpose of the law is to protect that person’s identity against basically a lone-wolf assailant coming in there and possibly doing harm to that individual or that family,” Harris says.

As would surprise no one, the anti-abortion supporters are claiming that the media is out to get them, and that the posters are really quite innocent.  The conservative group Media Research Center commented on a CBS story about the posters, saying:

Miller then portrayed the pro-life group behind the posters as menacing: “Those responsible for the flyers – Operation Save America – repeatedly protest abortions at women’s health clinics in the Charlotte area, claiming the doctors harm women and kill babies. They list specific addresses and urge people to contact doctors there. One poster even cites a home address.” The unidentified doctor proclaimed: “These wanted posters are a call for my murder.”

Attempting to draw a connection between the flyers and past murders of abortion doctors, Miller pointed out: “In the 1990s, similar flyers were distributed in other cities. Then came the murders. In 1993, Pensacola Dr. David Gunn and Dr. George Patterson in Alabama. Dr. John Britton was gunned down a year later in Florida. All were targets of the wanted poster campaign.” A sound bite followed from Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the left-wing pro-abortion group Feminist Majority Foundation: “We know what the pattern has been year after year. Wanted poster, murder. Wanted poster, murder. We need tough prosecution before more doctors are murdered.”

Miller did provide some time to Operation Save America founder Flip Benham, but only to level accusations against him: “So do you think these incite violence?”

Near the end of the story, Miller went back to the anonymous doctor, replaying an earlier sound bit of him claiming “The posters are meant to call for my murder.” Miller asserted: “They’re just putting out the bait.” The doctor replied: “They’re putting out the bait, they’re putting out the call, and hoping somebody will respond.” Miller concluded: “Women’s rights groups have called for the Justice Department to investigate the posters, fearing history could repeat itself.”

Do abortion doctors have nothing to fear from these obvious targets on their backs?  Time Magazine interviewed Dr. Hern, who was nothing if not blunt about those who terrorize and murder.

Healthland: Tell me about Donald Hertz. How did he threaten your family?

Hern: He called my office on the afternoon of June 23, last year, three weeks after Dr. Tiller was assassinated. Dr. Tiller was a very dear friend of mine and a colleague, and his assassination was not just a personal loss for his family and his friends but very, very frightening because the same group of people that urged his assassination have also urged this to happen to me.

[Hertz] called and he told a person in my office that two Vietnam veterans were leaving Utah to come to Boulder to hurt my family. It scared us to death. My 92-year-old mother was evacuated from her home in the middle of the night because law enforcement authorities were afraid for her safety. They increased the level of protection for me and my family.

The FBI and federal marshals tracked the phone call to Donald Hertz and he was arrested and brought to trial. He terrorized me and my family, and all he got was a slap on the wrist. 

Healthland: Are you scared?

Hern: I am a physician. I practice medicine. I have been committed to this work since I started in 1973. I will continue doing it. The people who disagree should leave me alone. It is the clear policy of the American anti-abortion movement to kill every doctor who does abortions. It is not a secret.

Healthland: How are you able to continue your work if that’s the case?

Hern: I show up at my office and see my patients.

Healthland: Do you just try not to think about it?

Hern: I can’t help but think about it. That’s what I do for a living.

Mini Roundup: The Pope went to Spain and all he got was a gay “kiss-in.”

November 8, 2010

November 7, 2010

November 5, 2010