LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Local and international groups fighting AIDSwarned on Tuesday that a new Nigerian law criminalizing same-sexmarriage and gay organizations will jeopardize the fight against thedeadly disease.
Human rights activists reported that dozens of gaymen were being arrested in northern Nigeria in an apparent response tothe law. The United States, Britain and Canada condemned the law, withSecretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that it "dangerouslyrestricts freedom" of expression and association of all Nigerians.
PresidentGoodluck Jonathan's spokesman confirmed Monday that he had signed theSame Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on Jan. 7, providing penalties of upto 14 years in jail for a gay marriage and up to 10 years' imprisonmentfor membership or encouragement of gay club, societies andorganizations.
The U.N. agency to fight AIDS and the Global Fundto Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria expressed "deep concern thataccess to HIV services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoplewill be severely affected by a new law in Nigeria - furthercriminalizing LGBT people, organizations and activities, as well aspeople who support them."
The law also criminalizes people andgroups who support "the registration, operation and sustenance of gayclubs, societies and organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria."Those convicted could be jailed for 10 years.
UNAIDS said the law could harm Jonathan's own presidential initiative to fight AIDS, started a year ago.
Itsaid Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic globally with anestimated 3.4 million people living with HIV. The disease affects manymore gay men than heterosexuals, with 2010 statistics estimatingnational HIV prevalence at 4% compared to 17% among gay men, accordingto UNAIDS.
Activist Dorothy Aken'Ova said the new legislation,already dubbed the "Jail the Gays" law, will endanger and evencriminalize programs fighting HIV-AIDS in the gay community. Aken'Ova isexecutive director of Nigeria's International Center for ReproductiveHealth and Sexual Rights based in Minna, Niger state.
Even beforeit was the passed, the law was being used to persecute gays, she said.In Bauchi state, she said police entrapped four gay men and torturedthem into naming others. She said the police have drawn up a list of 168wanted gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested recently.
Jonathan,Nigeria's president, has not publicly expressed his views onhomosexuality. But his spokesman, Reuben Abati, told The AssociatedPress on Monday night, "This is a law that is in line with the people'scultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflectionof the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. ... Nigerians arepleased with it."