The EU has condemned Nigeria’s newly-passed anti-gay legislation, which bans same-sex marriage and gay organisations, while local human rights activists have demanded that it be rescinded.

The ‘Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill and other Related Matters’ was passed by the House of Representatives last week Thursday.

If it becomes law, the sweeping legislation will not only jail same-sex couples who attempt to marry for up to 14 years but will also imprison anyone who was aware of or was involved in a same-sex marriage without reporting it as well as banning any gay clubs and organisations and any public displays of same-sex affection.

In a statement, 45 human rights defenders, groups, individuals and civil society organisations said that the law will “deprive Nigerians of their fundamental human rights as guaranteed in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution.

“This includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, right to life, right to privacy and security of the person, right to private and family life, right to freedom from discrimination, right to freedom of expression and press, right to fair hearing, right to dignity of the human person and right to personal liberty”.

They pointed out that under the proposed legislation, “it will be an offense to advocate against the law without being found guilty of indirectly supporting same sex marriage or relationships. This would be an inherent contradiction for a democratic system”.

The activists also expressed their concern at how easily the law could be abused as it targets not only same-sex couples who “marry” but any two people of the same sex living together.

“Many people share housing for economic reasons. Two roommates of the same sex could be accused by anybody with whom they have a personal or public dispute of ‘living together as husband and wife’ and be prosecuted under this law,” said the activists, adding that “their relatives, friends or visitors could be accused of indirectly supporting in private a same sex amorous relationship just by visiting them”.

“In a tactile society like Nigeria where people of same sex frequently and freely hold each other’s hands, wrap their arms around each other’s waist, can be seen in warm embrace, such innocuous gesture is likely to be misconstrued, invested with sexual meaning and misused for malicious purpose. With the passage of this bill we are likely to see increased rate of harassment, witch-hunt and vindictive accusations which will impact on every Nigerian.

“In the hands of unscrupulous politicians and aspirants, the legislation could be used as a powerful tool to undermine and discredit opponents thus subjecting prospective candidates to political blackmail or defamation of character and integrity,” said the groups.

They urged the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Office of the President to immediately consult with the National Human Rights Commission and civil society organisations on the human rights implications of the bill.

They also called on these bodies to “immediately withdraw the bill and uphold the mandate as available in Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which stipulates the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights of all citizens”.

It is believed that the bill will next go to President Goodluck Jonathan for him to sign into law. Jonathan faces a barrage of criticism should he decide to sign the bill, which has been condemned by international human rights group and a number of Western governments.

In a statement, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the EU, said: “I am concerned that Nigerian lawmakers have voted to accept a bill that would criminalise same sex marriage. The EU seeks neither to promote nor discourage same sex marriages, but has been clear it opposes discrimination or any form of legislation that seeks to persecute someone on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The EU also opposes any restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, or persecution of those who defend these freedoms,” she said.

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