Amnesty International condemns 'homophobia' in Africa

Gay men kiss in Nairobi (20 June 2006) Homosexual acts are outlawed in most African countries

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Homophobic attacks have reached dangerous levels in sub-Saharan Africa and must stop, Amnesty International has said in a report.

Governments are increasingly criminalising "homosexual acts" by seeking to impose new laws and draconian penalties, it adds.

This sends the "toxic message" that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are criminals, the report says.

Some of the continent's leaders say homosexuality is un-African.

In 2011, the US and UK hinted that they could withdraw from countries which did not respect homosexual rights on the socially conservative continent.

However, Amnesty said US religious groups "actively fund and promote homophobia in Africa", while many of the laws were inherited from the colonial era.

'Inflaming hostility'

Homosexual acts are still a crime in 38 African countries, it said in a report titled "Making Love a Crime: Criminalisation of same-sex conduct in sub-Saharan Africa".

There is no specific legislation outlawing homosexual acts in 12 African countries, mostly former French colonies, while gay rights are formally recognised in South Africa.

Map showing gay rights in Africa

In the last five years, South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalising same-sex relations, it says.

Sierra Leone case study

Gay activist George Freeman went into hiding and was beaten up last month after a local newspaper printed his photo and an article he had written for a foreign magazine in 2012 about his sexuality. He told BBC Focus on Africa he started receiving homophobic text messages, so he decided to pass the night at a hotel in the outskirts of the capital, Freetown:

"One my way to the hotel I was attacked by two bike riders. By the time I could realise [what was going on] the glass on my side was smashed, so I moved to the passenger seat and later on the other glass was smashed. I managed to move out of the car and during that process I was severely beaten and I sustained bruises and injuries on my back, some lashes. Then I had to escape from the scene and report the matter to the police station. It was around 12:30 to 1 [am].

There was a note which was left inside the car which said: 'We know you people, we're coming after you, you bloody homosexuals.' There are a series of [such] violations which have been happening. Most of the time the police turn a blind eye to cases relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in Sierra Leone and we receive a lot of homophobic slurs.

Being gay in Sierra Leone is a very traumatic situation because you have to go through a lot of family rejection; you have to go through a lot of religious restrictions and things like that. One thing that hurts is that violence is part of your life - you have to accept violence. No sooner [do] you come out than the problem starts."

Interview: BBC's Umaru Fofana

The parliaments of Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria have draft laws before them, seeking to increase penalties.

"These poisonous laws must be repealed and the human rights of all Africans upheld," Amnesty said.

"In some African countries political leaders target sexual orientation issues to distract attention from their overall human rights records, often marked by rampant discrimination and violence against women, corruption and lack of media freedoms," it added.

In South Africa, at least seven people, five of them lesbians, were murdered between June and November 2012 in what appears to have been targeted violence related to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the report says.

This is despite the fact that homosexual acts are not illegal in South Africa and the country boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, it adds.

In many instances, media reports also inflame hostility towards people not conforming to heterosexual norms, Amnesty says.

In 2010, Uganda's Rolling Stone magazine published a photograph of gay rights activist David Kato next to a headline reading "Hang Them", it says.

Just a month later, he was killed in his home, although the police have denied it was a hate crime.

In Sierra Leone last month, a gay activist was beaten up and whipped by attackers after a local newspaper printed his photo and an article he had written for a foreign magazine in 2012 about his sexuality.

"There was a note which was left inside the car which said: 'We know you people, we're coming after you, you bloody homosexuals,'" George Freeman, who runs Pride Equality group, told the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana in Freetown says it was not the first time gays and lesbians have been attacked in the small West Africa nation.

Seven years ago, a lesbian, FannyAnn Eddy, was killed allegedly because of her sexuality, he says.

"We must be very careful when it comes to dealing with the issue of gays and lesbians because these are very strange phenomena in our society and we do not have any special protection for them because they are not recognised by the laws of Sierra Leone," Francis Munu, Sierra Leone's inspector general of police, told the BBC after the attack on Mr Freeman.

In Cameroon, people are regularly arrested after being denounced as being gay or lesbian because of their "appearance or conjecture, rather than evidence", Amnesty says.

Some individuals accused of same sex conduct in Cameroon have been imprisoned for three years without trial or charge, it adds.

Former detainees from Cameroon told Amnesty that they were subjected to "invasive procedures such as forced anal exams" while in custody, the report says.

In Kenya, people told Amnesty that sometimes the police threaten to arrest them under provisions in the penal code related to same-sex relations in order to obtain a bribe, the report adds.

"Extortionists also use the existence of these laws to demand money or goods in exchange for not revealing real or even made-up private details to the media, community or police," Amnesty said.

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