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Nigeria Make Another Stab At Additional Prison Penalties for Same-Sex Marriage

Jim Burroway

September 28th, 2011

The West African country whose over-reaching attempt in 2009 to impose severe penalties on human rights advocacy and free association for its LGBT citizens under the guise of “banning” same sex marriage was met with international alarm from human rights activists, is at it again. The Nigerian Senate debated a bill yesterday which would make entering into a same-sex marriage a criminal offense, with three years’ imprisonment for couples convicted of being married, and five years’ imprisonment for anyone who “witnesses, abets and aides” the solemnization of the marriage. Homosexuality is already a criminal offense in Nigeria, where it carries a penalty of fourteen years imprisonment in the south and capital punishment in areas in the north which are under Sharia Islamic Law. Nigeria’s The Daily Times reports that the bill passed it first reading on July 13, and that no Senators rose to oppose the bill during Tuesday’s debate.

It is unknown at this time what the exact provisions under the new law would be. The proposed 2009 law which ostensibly banned same-sex marriage went much further than simply addressing same sex marriage. The 2009 proposal, like its current incarnation, provided for a prison sentence of three years for anyone who has “entered into a same gender marriage contract,” and it also would have defined same-sex marriage as any gay couples found living together. Also like the new proposal, it also provided for five years’ imprisonment or a fine for anyone who “witnesses, abet and aids the solemnization” of a same-sex marriage. But the 2009 law also went much further, by making criminals of anyone working in organizations which advocate for gay rights. LGBT advocates point pointed out that the proposed bill law would punish those who “aids and abets” people to live together with a tougher sentence than the couple concerned.

It is unknown at this time what, if any, additional provisions are included in the current proposal. Spokesperson for the Nigerian Senate expect the bill to pass by the end of next year. The United States State Department have joined international human rights groups in strongly condemning the bill, pointing out that it would the freedoms of expression, association and assembly guaranteed by international law as well as by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The law would also impose an impediment to the struggle against the spread of AIDS in the oil-producing west African nation.

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