Last edited: August 20, 2004

Zanzibar Bans Gay Sex

Reuters, August 20, 2004

By Ally Salleh

ZANZIBAR—Zanzibar has banned gay sex and set prison terms of up to 25 years for those who break the law.

The law sets a penalty of life imprisonment for sodomizing a minor. The penalty for homosexual sex between men is 25 years’ jail and seven years for lesbian sex. That compares to death for murder in Zanzibar and 30 years for violent robbery or rape.

“This is what we have been aspiring for. If the government takes such steps, the country will really move ahead,” said Sheikh Muhammed Said, a local Islamic leader.

The office of Zanzibar’s attorney general said the law took effect when the island archipelago’s president, Amani Karume, signed it last week. Zanzibar’s parliament, in a rare show of unity, passed the bill unanimously in April.

Islamic groups have been calling for a more puritanical approach to public affairs on the Tanzanian Indian Ocean island, which is overwhelmingly Muslim and ordinarily a tourist idyll.

Besides targeting gays, the groups have pushed for bars to be removed from residential areas.

Local supporters of gay rights said the law was unfair.

“How can you have different jail terms for man-to-man relations than those for women-to-women relations? And in any case, where is the sancrosanctity of the body?” said Issa Suleiman.

Several international human rights groups have condemned the law as an infringement on personal liberty.

Travel agencies who specialize in trips for gays and lesbians have also threatened to boycott Zanzibar, which relies heavily on tourism revenue.

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island archipelago which forms part of Tanzania and has long attracted tourists seeking to relax on its white beaches lapped by the Indian Ocean.

The bill was passed after a series of bomb and grenade attacks that targeted a restaurant and the homes of political and religious leaders, which police initially blamed on Muslim militants. There were no casualties.

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