Sir Richard Branson is calling for a corporate boycott of Uganda, following the Ugandan Parliament’s decision to pass the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
The business magnate and investor, a strong supporter of LGBT rights and who in May 2012 recorded a video for the Out4Marriage campaign, wrote on his website: “I have been courted by various people and government officials to do business in Uganda. I was seriously considering it.
“However, the dreadful witch hunt against the gay community and lifetime sentences means it would be against my conscience to support this country.
“I would urge other companies worldwide to follow suit. Uganda must reconsider or find it being ostracised by companies and tourists worldwide.”
Sir Richard is the founder of Virgin Group, which has more than 400 companies worldwide, focusing mainly on travel, entertainment and telecommunications.
The 63-year-old is also a leading philanthropist who has supported charitable efforts across the continent of Africa.
He attended former South Africa president Nelson Mandela’s funeral earlier this month.
“Governments must realise that people should be able to love whoever they want,” Sir Richard said.
He warned it was not for any government “to ever make any judgements on people’s sexuality”.
“They should instead celebrate when people build loving relationships that strengthen society, no matter who they are,” he added.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said to PinkNews.co.uk: “We’re concerned about the impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on human rights in Uganda and fear the bill will damage the rights of people belonging to minority groups, and Uganda’s international reputation.”
The US State Department also criticised the move. It said: “We condemn legislation that criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults or criminalises simply being of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity.”
MPs in Uganda last Friday passed legislation to toughen the punishment for same-sex sexual activity, including life imprisonment for all same-sex sexual behaviour – not just the current life tariff for anal intercourse.
However, it is possible for parliamentary supporters of the bill to bypass the need for presidential approval if a further vote is tabled. They require a two-thirds majority.
The bill increases the penalty for other acts – including mere sexual touching – from seven years to life imprisonment.
Promoting homosexuality and aiding and abetting others to commit same-sex acts will be punishable by five to seven years in jail.
A person in authority – gay or heterosexual – who fails to report violators to the police within 24 hours will be sentenced to three years behind bars.