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Human rights activists in Nigeria have sharply criticised a new law that criminalises membership of a gay organisation and same sex marriages.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed by the Nigerian Parliament last year but not signed by the president, Goodluck Jonathan, until last week – when he did so quietly and without fanfare.
Jonathan’s office confirmed on Monday that the Nigerian leader had signed it.
Activist Olumide Makanjuola said lawyers for his Initiative For Equal Rights were backing lawsuits filed by several homosexuals arrested by police allegedly without cause.
“When you have a bill that is trying to indirectly send everybody to jail, I think it calls for a national concern,” he said.
UK gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described the new law as “one of the most draconian anti-gay laws anywhere in the world.”
“This legislation not only bans same sex marriages and civil unions with a penalty of 14 years in jail, but it also imposes a 10-year jail sentence for membership or support of gay organisations, events and advocacy,” he said.
However Paul Obianaso, the Director-General of the Centre for Criminal Justice Reforms and Citizen Awareness, said it was better to have the law rather than “situations where people will take the law into their hands on account of saying someone is suspected to be an homosexual.”
While harsh, Nigeria’s law is not as draconian as a bill passed last month by legislators in Uganda that is awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s signature.
It provides penalties including life imprisonment for “aggravated” homosexual sex.
Initially, legislators had been demanding the death sentence.
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