“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.

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