Despite facing international condemnation, Zanzibar’s parliament has passed a bill that will make homosexual sex illegal.
The island, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania located in the Indian Ocean, introduced the bill in March as an attempt to stem the acceptance of lesbians and gays.
When the bill was introduced, politicians said the laws would also make sure the island was kept out of the same-sex marriage debate currently being tackled across Europe and North America.
Gay men found guilty of homosexual relations will face up to 25 years in jail. Lesbian relationships will be punished by seven years’ jail.
Under the bill, same-sex marriages are prohibited, and those attending same-sex weddings could be punished.
The move follows the growth of Islam on the island. The government has faced criticism in the past for giving in to religious hard-liners.
Asha Juma, a member of Zanzibar’s Joint Presidential Supervisory Commission, said the law to ban homosexuality was aimed at protecting Tanzania’s religion, culture and moral standards.
Juma said through trade and tourism, the semi-autonomous island has been exposed to practices such as homosexuality which she claimed ran contrary to Islam.
She blamed gay people for the rising number of what she called misdemeanours and misbehaviours.
Islam, from the day one, that thing is not allowed, not permitted, she said.
Juma said the ban on homosexuality was not a concession to Muslim extremists.
There’s no connection with that bill and those Islam extremists, she said.
The bill was backed by the Society of Islamic Awareness. Some commentators have recently noted a change in religious and social attitudes in the Zanzibar people, as well as in neighbouring countries.
During his presidency, Zim-babwe’s Robert Mugabe has regularly attacked gay rights internationally, once accusing Prime Minister Tony Blair of running a gay government.
The new law must now be passed by President Amani Karume.
The president is expected to back the law since it received overwhelming support of the major two political parties in the country’s House of Representatives.