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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 18:57 GMT
Nigeria moves to tighten gay laws
Deputy Speaker Austin Opara
The deputy speaker said Nigerians shouldn't forget their cultural heritage
Nigeria's House of Representatives has held a public hearing on a new bill seeking to outlaw gay relations.

The bill, which could become law before April's elections, proposes a five-year sentence for anyone convicted of being openly gay or practising gay sex.

Critics say the bill is anti-freedom, but religious leaders say it will help "protect society's morals and values".

Homosexuality is taboo across most of Africa, although South Africa recently legalised gay marriages.

The committee conducting the public hearing say they have received over 100 petitions from rights groups asking that the proposed bill be withdrawn.

"The bill is going to seriously violate the rights of people. This bill is evil and should not be allowed to see that light of the day," says Alimi Ademola who heads Independent Project Nigeria, a gay rights organisation.

Debate

But the bill will prove popular in a country where homosexuality is taboo and elections are looming, says the BBC's Senan Murray in Abuja.

Abdul Oroh
While we are trying to protect morals and values, we must also remember to protect people's rights even if they are a minority
MP Abdul Oroh

Parliamentary insiders say the bill is likely to be passed by both chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly by the end of March, he says.

Speaking at the session, Deputy Speaker Austin Opara said he did not want Nigerians to forget their "religious and cultural backgrounds".

The Christian Association of Nigeria (Can), the umbrella body for Nigerian Christians, called for speedy passage of the law, describing same sex unions as "barbaric and shameful".

The National Muslim Centre also condemned gay relations as "immoral, and runs contrary to our cultural and religious values".

The deputy chairman of the house committee on human rights Abdul Oroh says it was hypocritical of proponents of the bill to use morality and religion as basis for their arguments.

"We should not be hypocritical here. I think we should deal with this subject dispassionately. While we are trying to protect morals and values, we must also remember to protect people's rights even if they are a minority," Mr Oreh said at the public hearing.

The United Nations has warned that the bill would promote the spread of HIV/Aids.

"Failing to acknowledge that sex between men will only increase the vulnerability of men - and women - to HIV infection, since men who cannot talk about their sexual orientation are less likely to seek appropriate support services," said Dr Pierre Mpele, the UNAids country co-ordinator in Nigeria.




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