Ethiopia has backed away from the latest plans for intensifying anti-gay repression there.
Plans for a large anti-gay rally in the capital on April 26 have been cancelled, the Associated Press reports.
In addition, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said plans have been dropped for adding homosexual activity to a list of crimes ineligible for a presidential pardon.
But the country remains hostile to LGBT people. As one activist noted, “Although the government cancelled the rally and dropped the bill, there is still a lot of government surveillance and violence on the LGBT community. … People are very scared even to socialize.”
Dereje Negash, chairman of a religious group affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said the planned rally was cancelled after people inside the church asked the government to prevent it, AP reported.
Homosexual activity in Ethiopia is punishable with a prison sentence of one year or up to 10 years for sex workers or people who abuse a position of authority to encourage another into same-sex acts, according to ILGA’s 2013 report on anti-homosexuality laws worldwide.
Anti-gay organizations in Ethiopia, including the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality (EICAH) and United for Life Ethiopia, last year proposed passage of a law that would impose the death penalty for homosexuals.
Redwan Hussein said the government does not support anti-gay movements in Ethiopia.
“It is not a serious crime. Plus, it is not as widespread as some people suggest. It is already a crime and a certain amount of punishment is prescribed for it. The government thinks the current jail term in enough,” he said.
The AP also reported unsupported claims by church group chairman Dereje Negash about alleged threats by LGBT people, an increase in “gay tourism” to Ethiopia, and “hundreds of people” in Ethiopia turning away from homosexuality:
“Currently I’m being threatened by the gay community for organizing the rally. Despite the threat, I will continue to pursue my struggle against the gay community. I believe I have been given a task by God to do this. I will do this even if it means life or death,” Dereje said.
Dereje said his group is not seeking the harassment of gay people, but he wants Ethiopian law to increase punishments for gay sex. Dereje said that gay sex tourism is increasing in the country and he wants it stopped.
“We believe the gay people should be supported to get out of their bad life. We have helped hundreds of people to abandon gay acts so far,” he said.