ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia’s lawmakers are set to pass a bill that puts homosexuality on a list of offenses considered “non-pardonable” under the country’s amnesty law, a measure that continues a trend of anti-gay legislation across Africa.
The bill, endorsed last week by Ethiopia’s Cabinet, is widely expected to pass when lawmakers put it to a vote next week.
Homosexuality is criminalized in 38 African countries, about 70 percent of the continent, according to Amnesty International. Uganda and Nigeria have recently strengthened criminal penalties against homosexuals.
In Ethiopia, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A 25-year jail term is also prescribed for anyone convicted of infecting another person with HIV during same-sex acts.
Ethiopia’s president often pardons thousands of prisoners during the Ethiopian New Year. If the bill becomes law, the president will lose his power to pardon prisoners who faced charges ranging from homosexuality to terrorism.
Tiruneh Zena, the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said a presidential pardon is a privilege and not a right, the reason he believes the bill is not harmful to the lives of homosexuals.
“I won’t say the proposed law is not a cause of concern but I don’t think the law will affect the LGBT community in a serious way,” he said.
Homosexuality is largely a taboo subject in Ethiopia, ignored even by known rights groups, but the legislation under consideration suggests anti-gay sentiment may be spreading in this Horn of Africa nation.
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