Last edited: April 18, 2004

Zanzibar Bans Gay Sex

The Advocate, April 15, 2004

Lawmakers in Zanzibar have overwhelmingly passed a bill that outlaws homosexual sex in the semiautonomous Indian Ocean archipelago. Legislators approved the bill late Tuesday, amending Zanzibar’s 70-year-old penal code to make gay sex punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. The bill has to be signed by Zanzibar’s president, Amani Karume, before it becomes law. Under Zanzibar’s 1934 penal code, sodomy and “unnatural acts” were offenses, but the government wanted to update the law to specifically deal with homosexual acts. “We want to be very specific that this sort of thing is not acceptable in Zanzibar.... People tend to think, Why now? Zanzibar is a predominantly Muslim country, and in Islam, homosexuality is strictly prohibited,” said Adam Mwakanjuki, Zanzibar’s constitutional affairs minister. “People might think [Zanzibar is] all cosmopolitan, but as far as homosexuality goes, it is an offense.”

The Zanzibar archipelago, which elects its own president and legislature, is a popular tourist destination, and some Muslim leaders have expressed concern about the influence of Western practices on the islands. Under the bill, adults convicted of attempting to seduce minors into homosexual acts could face up to 25 years in prison, while those convicted of engaging in homosexual acts with minors would face life imprisonment, Mwakanjuki told the Associated Press. “There has been increasing homosexual behavior in this part of East Africa,” Mwakanjuki said. Zanzibar, a 19th-century hub for the Indian Ocean slave trade, was ruled by an Omani sultan until independence in 1963. The archipelago united with Tanzania a year later, when the sultan was deposed in a violent revolution. Sodomy and “unnatural acts” are also prohibited in mainland Tanzania as well as neighboring Kenya and Uganda.

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