Kampala: Uganda`s constitutional court on Friday overturned tough new anti-gay laws that had been branded draconian and "abominable" by rights groups, saying they had been wrongly passed by parliament.
The legislation was signed by Uganda`s veteran President Yoweri Museveni in February, recommending that homosexuals be jailed for life. It also outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and obliged Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.
The law is "null and void," presiding judge Steven Kavuma told the court, saying the process contravened the constitution, as it has been passed without the necessary quorum of lawmakers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had likened the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany, and Western nations made a raft of aid cuts to Uganda`s government.
Cheering gay rights activists celebrated today`s ruling.
"Justice prevailed, we won," said lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who led the challenge in the constitutional court.
"The retrogressive anti-homosexuality act of Uganda has been struck down by the constitutional court -- it`s now dead as a door nail," said Andrew Mwenda, one of 10 petitioners.
UNAIDS called the ruling "a great day for social justice".
"The rule of law has prevailed," said executive director Michel Sidibe.
But homosexuality in Uganda remains illegal and punishable by jail sentences under previous legislation, which is expected to return after the court`s decision.
Critics have said Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the law as it is on paper remains valid, saying it had been struck down on a matter of procedure and not over its content.
"The ruling has not nullified the anti-homosexuality law, it only ruled on the validity of the procedure in parliament," he said.
But gay rights activists were celebrating.
"I am no longer a criminal, today we have made history for generations to come," said Kasha Jacqueline, another petitioner and a prominent gay rights activist.