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British man prepares for gay sex trial in Uganda

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A retired British man will appear in a Ugandan court Monday on charges of "trafficking obscene publications" after police found private pictures of him having sex with another man.

Bernard Randall, 65, last month pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were brought after his laptop was stolen and films on the computer were handed to a Ugandan tabloid.

"I'm completely innocent but I have no faith in the Ugandan judicial system," he told AFP Saturday, looking drained from worry and lack of sleep on the patio of a modest house full of plants in a small town outside Kampala.

"They were very private. They were just for me," Randall said, describing his horror at seeing personal photographs printed in the tabloid showing him having sex with a man in Morocco, several thousand kilometres (miles) from Uganda.

"If any trafficking was done, it was by the robbers who took the laptop, and the newspaper for printing them."

Randall, who faces a two-year sentence if convicted, fears he will be deported from Uganda, a decision that would prevent him from heading there every year to escape the British winter.

But he told AFP that after recent humiliation at the hands of the Ugandan police, the prospect of going to jail in Uganda is worse still.

"It was bad enough being in the cells at the police station. Being imprisoned, it horrifies me the thought of that," he said.

Homosexuality is a crime in Uganda, and gay rights activists say they regularly face death threats.

"I was terrified.... I've put padlocks on the windows, checked all the locks on the doors," Randall said, adding he had feared vigilante gangs might seek to attack him.

In 2011, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on the front page along with a yellow banner reading 'Hang Them'.

Situation 'breaks my heart'

But Randall said that people he had met had treated him with respect since the case had drawn public attention.

"Ugandans are very kind people... and ordinary Ugandans have responded wonderfully -- some gay, some not gay -- but all saying 'it is your life to do with it as you want'," he told AFP.

British actor and writer Stephen Fry has supported the campaign calling for charges to be dropped and British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has also sent messages of support.

Randall, a former computer systems expert in the finance industry who comes from Kent in southeast England, first came to Uganda in 2011, shortly after his wife died just short of their 40-year wedding anniversary.

Randall, who has two grown-up daughters, only came out as a homosexual after his wife's death.

He returned on holiday to Uganda in September, but days after he arrived, thieves broke into the house where he was staying, stealing cash, mobile telephones and his computer.

The thieves passed images on the laptop to the newspaper, allegedly using anti-gay pastor Solomon Male as an intermediary.

That prompted police to arrest Randall, and take him for a medical examination to "check" his homosexuality.

"Uganda is a wonderful country," he said. "The situation I face breaks my heart."

Uganda has repeatedly cracked down on gay activists, and proposed legislation -- stalled but still awaiting a hearing before parliament -- that would see the death penalty imposed for certain homosexual acts if passed.

Although legislators have said the bill could be changed, in its current form, anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts more than once, or engaging in gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV, would be sentenced to death.

In January, Uganda dropped charges against British theatre producer David Cecil, who was arrested after staging a play about gay people in the country.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131117/british-man-prepares-gay-sex-trial-uganda