Nigerian Senate votes for grossly abusive anti-gay law

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The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday, November 29th to criminalise same-sex marriages and civil unions, with penalties of up to 14 years jail for participants and 10 years jail for anyone who helps or witnesses such a marriage or union.

In addition, “the scope of the bill has been dramatically widened,” according to the Nigerian LGBT in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws and UK rights activist Peter Tatchell. It now also criminalises gay organisations and advocacy groups, and public expressions of same-sex affection. These newly added offences carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. A major petition against the bill has been launched by the Petition Site called “Equal Rights for Gay Nigerians.”

The bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for approval. If it is passed there, and secures the President’s signature, it will become law. The bill comes on the heels of several dangerous similar laws worldwide, prominently in Russia and Uganda, but also in the wake of UK and US threats to withdraw aid to foreign governments that commit human rights abuses against LGBT people. Ironically, the US and UK both still effectively forbid same-sex marriage nationwide. The Tatchell Foundation has notably come out against governments that criminalize homosexuality in the Commonwealth due to the adverse effect that such laws have on HIV prevention.

According to Reuters, the Nigerian bill states:

“Persons who entered into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison….

“Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

Commenting on the bill, Yemisi Ilesanmi, the Nigerian bisexual coordinator of the campaign group, Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, said:

“This legislation is a clear attempt to crush the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) community in Nigeria. The further criminalisation of same-sex relations is hateful and a violation of human rights.

“The bill will jail Nigerians who participate in LGBTI organisations and will make human rights advocacy by LGBTI groups impossible.

“The new penalties for same-sex marriage are more than double what the bill originally demanded. The previous penalty of three years jail for same-sex couples who get married has been raised to 14 years. For witnesses and facilitators of such marriages the maximum jail term has been increased from five to 10 years. The decision to so substantially increase the punishments is particularly abhorrent.

“It is shameful that many Nigerian senators are so myopic that they compared homosexuality to paedophilia during the voting on the bill.

“The action of further criminalising an oppressed minority because of their sexual orientation is indeed an outrage, a gross violation of human rights. Nigeria is sliding fast into a despotic state.

“The bill aims to further criminalise same-sex relationships. Already, consensual same-sex conduct between adults is a criminal offence carrying up to 14 years imprisonment and in some parts of the country there is the death penalty under Sharia law,” said Ms Ilesanmi.

Davis Mac-Iyalla, the gay campaign director of the Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, noted:

“The Nigerian senators have today further demonstrated their discrimination and oppression of vulnerable LGBTI Nigerians. I urge human rights activists worldwide to join forces with us to fight the bill.”

“This vote demonstrates how the senators are ignorant of human sexuality. They are enforcing their religious beliefs in a secular country. Equality and human rights are for all, including Nigerian LGBTIs,” he said.

Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights advocacy organisation, the Peter TatchellFoundation, added:

“This bill violates the equality and non-discrimination guarantees of Article 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold.

“There is a good chance that this bill, and Nigeria’s long-standing criminalisation of same-sex relations, can be challenged in the courts. This could be a future option for LGBTI campaigners and human rights defenders.

“The law against homosexuality is not an authentic national law that originated in Nigerian jurisprudence. It was imposed on Nigeria by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century.

“Despite Nigeria now being an independent country, this British colonial law has never been repealed.” 

“Our Nigerian colleagues are still hopeful that they can defeat the bill at the next stage. We stand in solidarity with their struggle for LGBTI equality,” Tatchell said.