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Ugandan Muslim leader faces life in prison for accidentally marrying a man

Emma Powys Maurice January 16, 2020
Uganda

The couple on their wedding day in Uganda's Kayunga District (Fred Muzaale/Daily Monitor)

A Ugandan imam is facing life in prison after he accidentally married a man, proving just how homophobic the East African country is.

Sheikh Mohammed Mutumba exchanged vows with his ‘bride’, Swabullah Nabukeera, in an Islamic ceremony. He met Nabukeera at a mosque and only ever saw them wearing a hijab or a gomesi, a traditional Ugandan floor-length dress.

According to local news reports, Mutumba’s new wife avoided consummating the marriage for two weeks by claiming to be on their period.

The truth was only discovered when one of Mutumba’s neighbours accused Nabukeera of stealing and called police. They was arrested and taken to a local police station, where officers were shocked to discover that the suspect had stacked clothes in a bra to “hoodwink” that they were breasts.

“On further search, we discovered that the suspect had male genitals. We quickly informed [their] husband who had escorted her to the police station,” said Isaac Mugera, Kayunga district criminal investigations officer.

The imam could not believe the news and demanded to see his wife’s genitals to “prove” for himself. It later emerged that Nabukeera was actually a cis man named Richard Tumushabe, who had duped Mutumba in a bid to get his money.

Imam punished for his ‘wife’s’ deception.

Tumushabe was charged with unnatural offence, impersonation, theft and obtaining goods by false pretence – the latter charge referring to the dowry of two goats, two bags of sugar, three dresses, a carton of salt and a Koran.

Although Mutumba committed no crime himself, and had actually sought counsel over his wife’s refusal to consummate the marriage, he has been taken to court and charged with having “carnal knowledge with a person against the order of nature”. The charge carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment.

He is now now being detained in Ntenjeru prison while he awaits his trial on January 24.

The religious leader has also been put under investigation by Muslim authorities and suspended from clerical duties. The head imam of Kyampisi Masjid Noor mosque said that the cleric’s suspension “was intended to preserve the integrity of their faith”.

Local LGBT+ advocates say the reaction to the case highlights the general attitude towards LGBT+ people in Uganda, a country that criminalises homosexuality.

Frank Mugisha, who runs the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told the Daily Mail that the case proved “how homophobic the country is”.

“The imam could be right when he says he didn’t know,” he said. “Ugandans should respect people’s privacy. They are not necessarily homosexuals.”

Persecution of LGBT+ people in Uganda.

Uganda has held some of the strictest anti-gay laws in the world since the time of the British colonial rule, although before this point homosexual relations were common and celebrated.

Uganda recently proposed reinstating the death penalty in a bill colloquially called ‘Kill the Gays’. The government later backtracked on this after an international uproar, but the public support for the law indicated the prevailing anti-gay sentiment in the region.

LGBT+ people are forced into hiding as violent and brutal attacks homophobic are common, and often performed by Ugandan state officials.

Last year a gay LGBT+ activist tragically died in his own home after a raging mob smashed his skull with hoes and machetes. Local LGBT+ people reported the incident to the authorities, but it appears that no one was held accountable.

More: criminalisation of homosexuality, imam, kill the gays bill, Sexual Minorities Uganda, Uganda

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