Skip to main content

Ugandan gay rights activist bludgeoned to death

From Tom Walsh, For CNN
Click to play
What happened to David Kato?
  • NEW: President Obama says the activist was advocate for fairness and freedom
  • David Kato's name was published on a list of the nation's "top homosexuals" last year
  • The Ugandan tabloid story reignited anti-gay sentiments
  • It was unclear whether his killing was tied to the front-page story

Kampala, Uganda (CNN) -- A Ugandan gay rights activist whose name was published on a list of the nation's "top homosexuals" was bludgeoned to death in his home near the capital, his lawyer said Thursday.

A neighbor found David Kato dead and notified authorities, according to the lawyer, John Onyango.

Kato's money and some clothes were missing after the attack, Onyango said.

It was unclear whether Kato's killing was linked to his gay rights activism or a front-page story in a Ugandan tabloid that reignited anti-gay sentiments late last year.

The story included a list of "top 100 homosexuals" with their photos, addresses and a banner with the words "Hang Them." Kato's name and picture were on the list.

Arrest warrants have been issued for two suspects: a taxi driver found near Kato's house and an ex-convict who was staying with Kato before the killing, Onyango said.

Ugandan editor speaks out
Interview with persecuted gay Ugandan
  • Uganda

Kato told CNN last year that he feared for his life after the list was released. His lawyer said he had informed authorities in Mukono, the town where he lived, of his fears.

"The villagers want to set my house ablaze," he told CNN at the time. "They want to burn my house. ... (They say,) 'Can you go away before my house is burned?'"

Authorities in the Mukono criminal investigations department declined to comment pending further investigation.

Activists decried the attack, and urged authorities in the east African nation to investigate the killing. They called on the government to protect them from violence, and act on threats and hostility toward them.

"David Kato's death is a tragic loss to the human rights community. David had faced the increased threats to Ugandan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people bravely and will be sorely missed," said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the death of Kato, whom he called a "powerful advocate for fairness and freedom."

"At home and around the world, LGBT persons continue to be subjected to unconscionable bullying, discrimination, and hate," the president said in a written statement. "In the weeks preceding David Kato's murder in Uganda, five members of the LGBT community in Honduras were also murdered. It is essential that the governments of Uganda and Honduras investigate these killings and hold the perpetrators accountable."

Earlier this year, Kato and two activists won a case against the magazine that published the list. The court ruled that media in Uganda are barred from releasing details of known or potential homosexuals in the country.

The editor of the Rolling Stone, the tabloid that published the list, denounced the attacks and said he sympathized with the victim's family.

"When we called for hanging of gay people, we meant ... after they have gone through the legal process," said Giles Muhame. "I did not call for them to be killed in cold blood like he was."

The Rolling Stone tabloid is not affiliated with the iconic U.S. music magazine by the same name.

Homosexuality is illegal in most countries in Africa, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism. In Uganda, homosexual acts are punishable by 14 years to life in prison, according to rights activists.

The U.S. Mission in Kampala, Uganda, said, "David's courageous devotion to promoting the universal human rights of members of Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community improved the lives of minority populations in Uganda and throughout Africa, and his selfless dedication to defending human rights and speaking out against injustice served as inspiration to human rights defenders around the world."

CNN's David McKenzie contributed to this report.