Anti-gay laws continue to tighten in Africa

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Homophobia is on the rise in Africa, often encouraged and protected by anti-gay laws, according to Amnesty International.

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It is illegal to be gay in 36 African states. Depending on where you are, having a consensual same-sex relationship can get you a life sentence – or even a death sentence.

A 20-year-old Nigerian has received 20 lashes after an Islamic court in the northern city of Bauchi convicted him of homosexual offences.

Under Islamic law, courts can punish homosexual acts by stoning to death. However, the judge said he took into account that the Muslim man, Mubarak Ibrahim carried out the acts seven years ago, and had stopped the practice. Ibrahim was also ordered to pay a fine of about $30.

Eleven other Muslims and a Christian man were arrested in December accused by the authorities of being homosexuals. In Nigeria, homosexual acts are illegal under both Islamic and secular law, but the conditions of imprisonment have become wider, and the punishment much harsher, when Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan passed amendments to existing laws in January 2014. The bill bans same-sex marriages, gay groups and shows of same-sex public affection.

The new legislation applies throughout Nigeria. Hostility towards gay people has escalated since parliament debated the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

Dorothy Aken’Ova, a rights activist with the Nigeria-based International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights said that she was aware of 38 people being arrested in Bauchi state in December, and was trying to confirm reports of more arrests in both the north and south of Nigeria since the new legislation was approved.

Meanwhile in Uganda, religious leaders have asked President Yoweri Museveni to quickly assent to the recently passed Anti-homosexuality Bill. After more than two years of on-and-off debate, parliament in December 2013 passed the Anti-homosexuality Bill, which criminalises sexual intercourse between same-sex partners. The legislation provides for a sentence of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality, which covers gays and lesbians. The Bill is now with the President for approval or dismissal by the end of January.

The leaders’ call came on the same day it was revealed that the President had written to the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, rejecting the proposed law and asking for it to be reconsidered by MPs.

In an eight-page letter written in late December to the Speaker and MPs, the President criticized Ms Kadaga for passing the controversial anti-gay bill without quorum, and after he had advised it be shelved until the government had studied it in depth.

While Museveni said homosexuality is an abnormal condition that can be cured, he disagreed with the position of Western countries that homosexuality is an “alternative sexual orientation”.

“You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people,” he said, adding that his acid test for rejecting the Western position is that nature is purposeful.

The President said apart from the people who are “abnormal”, it seems there is a group of those that become homosexual for “mercenary reasons” – they get recruited on account of financial inducements. He said this is a group that can be rescued and that many of the youth fall in this category.

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