The leaders of the Catholic church in Nigeria have sought to distance themselves from a hate campaign against gay people in the African country.
Nigeria has some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world. Under legislation passed last year someone can be imprisoned for up to 10 years for joining a gay club or society, or showing “affection” to someone of the same sex in public.
Also, anyone providing services to someone perceived to be homosexual - like a doctor providing medicine to an HIV patient - can also be imprisoned for up to a decade.
The media and anti-gay protesters have used Christian churches views on homosexuality to insist severe punishment for gays in Nigeria.
The Rev Chris Okotie - a Christian televangelist who has run for president twice - has labelled homosexuality “the cult of the beast” in pressing President Muhammadu Buhari to uphold the anti-gay laws passed under the leadership of Goodluck Jonathan - an idea the Nigerian media has jumped on.
But the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria has asked the media to stop telling people that the Catholic church believes that gays and lesbians deserve severe punishment or time in jail.
President Muhammadu Buhari is under pressure to repeal anti-gay laws (PA)
“There is certainly an obsession by some journalists about 'severe punishment of gays or lesbians' and they try to twist the bishops’ statements to articulate their views,” said Father Chris Anyanwu, the conference’s director of social communication.
“Nigerian Catholic bishops are very responsible pastors who do not seek the punishment or jailing of persons who err, but to help them unto salvation,” Father Anyanwu added.
The bishops were concerned that the tone of some news stories attributed to the president of the conference, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, were far from those intended to achieve the aim of his original message.
The conference wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan congratulating him on resisting calls to legalise same-sex marriage. They believe that this has been taken as support for punishment of gay people.
“We reiterate our unreserved condemnation of all acts of homosexuality as sinful and opposed to the natural law of creation. Nevertheless, we maintain that persons with these orientations should be assisted pastorally, spiritually and psychologically, with respect for their dignity as human persons created in the image and likeness of God.”
Aderonke Apata handed a 65,000 signature petition to Nigeria High Commission today demanding the anti-gay laws are repealed (PA)
Meanwhile, Nigerian gay activists have handed over a petition demanding the repeal of the anti-gay laws with 65,000 signatures to the High Commission of Nigeria in London.
"Since the laws passed last year there have been waves of police arrests and torture, anti-LGBT mob attacks, public whippings, evictions from homes, harassment and discrimination against 'suspected' LGBTs," said Aderonke Apata, the author of the petition.
"Growing up in Nigeria, I was unable to disclose my sexuality, yet unable to hide it. The culture in Nigeria makes it clear that being gay or transgender is a sin, a sentiment that is fuelled by homophobic messages from faith communities, political leaders, families, and schools.
"I was arrested, tortured and extorted by the Nigerian police. I demand a repeal of this toxic law."
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