A Muslim cleric in Uganda who claims to have unwittingly married a man he thought was a woman now faces life in prison on charges of having gay sex.
According to Daily Monitor, Sheikh Mohammed Mutumba, 27, the Imam of a mosque in Kayunga District, has been arrested and charged with having “carnal knowledge with a person against the order of nature.”
He is in Ntenjeru prison pending the outcome of a bail hearing and could face a life sentence for the “crime”. His “bride”, Richard Tumushabe, is facing the same charges, in addition to charges of impersonation, theft and obtaining goods by false pretence.
Under colonial-era legislation criminalising gay sex in Uganda, those found guilty of homosexuality face life in prison.
The story made international headlines after it was reported that Sheikh Mutumba only discovered that his new wife was a man two weeks into their marriage. It came to light when police officers found that Tumushabe was biologically male when doing a body search after arresting him for allegedly stealing a neighbour’s TV.
Mutumba claims that he was the victim of a plot by Tumushabe, who passed himself off as a woman named Swabullah Nabukeera, to steal his money. The couple got married in a ceremony in which Tumushabe wore a white wedding dress and veil.
Sheikh Mutumba says that his “wife” almost always wore a hijab and never undressed in front of him. They also apparently never had sex after they married because Tumushabe claimed to be menstruating.
It seems that Ugandan prosecutors are not convinced that the imam is being entirely truthful, hence the homosexuality charges. The couple will be back in court on 24 January. Police say that they are aware of other male victims of Tumushabe’s alleged gender impersonation and theft.
Sheikh Mutumba has also been suspended from his religious duties by religious authorities pending an investigation to “preserve the integrity of their faith”.
The truth behind the bizarre story may be difficult to unravel as the Ugandan media is notoriously homophobic and those involved may be unwilling to be open about events due to very real fear of prosecution and stigma. It’s also possible that Tumushabe may identify as a transgender woman.
Ugandan LGBTIQ activist Frank Mugisha told The Associated Press that the response to the incident shows “how homophobic the country is.” He added that “The imam could be right when he says he didn’t know. Ugandans should respect people’s privacy. They are not necessarily homosexuals.”