KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan gay rights activist who was late last year featured with other gays in a newspaper article headlined "Hang Them" has been beaten to death in his Kampala home, rights groups said on Thursday.
David Kato was one of three people featured in Uganda's Rolling Stone newspaper who this month won an injunction barring it from continuing its anti-gay campaign.
"Witnesses told police that a man entered Kato's home in Mukono at around 1 p.m. on January 26, 2011, hit him twice in the head and departed in a vehicle," New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
"Kato died on his way to Kawolo hospital. Police told Kato's lawyer that they had the registration number of the vehicle and were looking for it."
Police were unavailable for comment. It is not clear whether the murder is linked to Kato's activism or to his outing in the newspaper. Kato claimed to have received death threats since its publication.
Friends of Kato, who did not want to be named, told Reuters he was attacked with a hammer and they suspected his sexuality could be the motive.
Human Rights Watch called for an investigation and for the government to protect gays from violence and from "hate speech" that could incite it.
Homosexuality is deeply unpopular in many African nations, where some see it as a Western import. It is illegal in 37 countries on the continent and activists say few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of jobs.
Uganda's anti-gay movement first made international headlines in October 2009 when a bill was tabled in the country's parliament proposing the death penalty for homosexuals who are "repeat offenders".
U.S. President Barack Obama denounced it as "odious" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to express concern.
It was quietly shelved under the pressure, but rights groups fear it may be passed after a February presidential election that Museveni is expected to win.
Rolling Stone published 29 photographs with names and, in some cases, addresses before the High Court ordered it to stop on grounds of privacy.
The first article -- which featured Kato -- ran under the headlines, "100 pictures of Uganda's top homos leak" and "Hang them".
Giles Muhame, the 22-year-old editor of the newspaper, told Reuters he condemned the murder and that the paper had not wanted gays to be attacked.
"If he has been murdered, that's bad and we pray for his soul," Muhame said.
"There has been a lot of crime, it may not be because he is gay. We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack them. We said they should be hanged, not stoned or attacked."
Editing by Giles Elgood