Ethiopia tightens its already strict anti-gay laws

Ethiopia tightens its already strict anti-gay laws25 March – It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.

It is the Ethiopian council of ministers that has adopted a change to the country’s “Pardon and Amnesty law”, which will assure that homosexuality, along with terrorism and a few other serious crimes, will become a criminal assault that can no longer be pardoned.

The Ethiopian penal code already defines sexual relations between persons of the same sex as a serious criminal offence. Article 629 of the penal code foresees that sexual minorities are punished hard. Violation of the Ethiopian gay and lesbian sex ban will lead to a minimum incarceration of one year, while it can give up to 15 years of imprisonment. The paragraph is no longer “silent” and is being applied by Ethiopian courts.

At the same time, there is a tradition for pardoning and amnesties in Ethiopia. Imprisoned citizens, including convicted homosexuals, may be pardoned if they have demonstrated a “sincere repentance” for their crimes, in addition to good conduct. This pardoning must be approved of by the Ethiopian president, who organises a mass pardoning at least once a year.

With the new law reform, persons convicted for having had sex with a person of the same sex will be excluded from this possibility of pardoning or amnesties. This will put sexual offences, committed in private by consenting adults, on line with the most serious crimes existing in Ethiopia, like murder and terrorism.

Activists are frustrated
This fact is outraging the largest organisation in the country, fight for the rights of sexual minorities, Rainbow Ethiopia, which demands the government must skip the already approved law reform.

“By excluding those convicted of homosexuality from being able to seek a pardon may not on the face of it seem as terrible as, say, laws in other African states like Nigeria and Uganda. However, by excluding homosexuals from the ability to seek a pardon, the so-called crime of homosexuality is put on the same footing as offences like rape, human trafficking, terrorism, corruption and smuggling,” the organisation says in a statement today.

This could develop into a “concerning precedent”, human rights campaigners suggest. Likening homosexuality with terrorism could be “a sign of groundwork being laid on which further anti-gay legislation might be built,” Rainbow Ethiopia fears.

A spokesperson for Rainbow Ethiopia, who could not be identified for fear of his family’s safety, holds that “Ethiopia has already very harsh anti-LGBT laws … The situation, however, is getting worse as it seems the government is trying to its emulate Nigeria’s and Uganda’s anti-gay laws.”

There are signs this is about to happen. Ethiopian authorities have already signalled that more measures against sexual minorities and “gay-bashing rhetoric” are on the way, in preparation to “the run up to the election next year,” the spokesman further warns.

According to local media reports, the Addis Ababa Youth Forum, a group linked to the ruling party in Ethiopia, in collaboration with an Ethiopian Orthodox Church association, is planning a mass anti-gay demonstration in the capital against what they called the “sodomite violence that is being committed against minors.” The mass demonstration is reportedly backed by several government institutions, according to the organiser.

Ethiopia following Uganda?
The politicising of homosexuality in Ethiopia seems to follow the footsteps of developments in Uganda. Also in Ethiopia, extremist evangelical groups such as United for Life are allowed to spread their hate speech against homosexuals unfiltered through local media. Politicians now have discovered the populist value of the issue, increasingly focusing on the minority to gain popular support.

In Uganda, president Yoweri Museveni in February, after months of pondering and doubts, signed into law a bill that now gives lifelong imprisonment for homosexuals in the country, whilst criminalising those not reporting gays to the police. With this, Museveni accepted a “milder” law than the original proposal from 2009, that would have given homosexuals the death penalty.

The Ugandan anti-gay law has created much debate all over East Africa during the last months. Homosexuality is a societal taboo in the entire region, and the argument that this is an “un-African practice” is propagated by politicians and gaining ground. The threat of aid cuts from Western nations seems to have fuelled the debate and the notion that homosexuality is a “Western cultural phenomenon”.

On the other hand, economic and diplomatic pressure has contributed in stopping extreme anti-gay legislation or anti-gay practices in several countries i Eastern and Southern Africa, including Malawi, Namibia and Kenya.

by staff writer
Source – AFROL