The Ugandan minister for ethics and integrity has suggested that the country will ditch its plans to execute gays in favour of life imprisonment.

James Nsaba Buturo said this would allow authorities to rehabilitate gays.

According to Reuters, he said: “There have been a lot of discussions in government … regarding the proposed law, but we now think a life sentence could be better because it gives room for offenders to be rehabilitated. Killing them might not be helpful.”

He denied the country had bowed down to international pressure. World powers such as the US, UK, France and Sweden had all heavily condemned the proposed law and Sweden had mooted the idea that aid could be cut to Uganda.

Instead, Buturo said: “It’s really out of our consultation with various groups, including religious leaders. It has nothing to do with external forces.”

Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill was first proposed in October. In the last few weeks, a number of international church leaders have condemned it.

US evangelical pastor Rick Warren called it “terrible”, while Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams also joined the Anglican voices speaking out against it.

They had warned the law could criminalise religious leaders who counselled gays.

The proposed law, which originally imposed the death sentence on gays who had sex with minors, disabled people or while infected with HIV, was debated in Uganda’s parliament last week. Debates will resume next month.

Along with imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality, friends and family members of gay Ugandans who do not report them to authorities could face up to three years in prison.

People who “promote” or assist homosexuality could be jailed for seven years. The bill would also punish Ugandan citizens who have gay sex abroad.

The bill’s sponsor, David Bahati MP, has argued that it will curb HIV infections and protect the “traditional family”.

It has been subject to worldwide condemnation and since the first reports emerged in mid-October, has received widespread media attention.

Many Ugandans believe homosexuality is an unnatural western import and see foreign interference as colonialism.

It is expected that the bill will receive strong support in Uganda’s parliament.