Chad looks set to become the 37th country in Africa to outlaw homosexuality after government ministers voted to make same-sex relations a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The decision, yet to be ratified by the country’s president, was condemned by human rights groups as another setback in the struggle for gay rights on the continent. Chad’s penal code is more than half a century old and does not explicitly mention homosexuality.
But section 361 of a draft new code states the punishment for anyone who has sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex is 15 to 20 years in jail and a fine of 50,000-500,000 Central African francs (£60-£600), according to a document seen by Agence France-Presse.
The cabinet claims that the measure is intended to “protect the family and to comply with Chadian society”. It will go before MPs and President Idriss Déby to be rubber-stamped.
The new penal code also abolishes the death penalty, more than a decade after the last execution of prisoners, a move welcomed by activists.
The reform of the penal code had been in preparation for 10 years but the question of homosexuality, while considered immoral, had never been a public issue in Chad.
The development is a reaction against colonial mores in Africa. Some observers believe it has been a response to the increased visibility and assertiveness of gay lifestyles and politics in Africa.
Although US evangelical Christians have been blamed for instigating anti-gay legislation in Uganda, same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in many.
Last month the Gambia passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality” relating to repeat offenders and people living with HIV/Aids. The Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, has previously told gay men and lesbians to leave the country or risk beheading.
Uganda recently imposed penalties for the “promotion of homosexuality”, including life sentences for various same sex acts. The law was struck down by judges on a technicality but is expected to be reintroduced by MPs.
In January, the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a bill criminalising same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights groups.
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, regularly attacks gay people in speeches and recently said he resented western aid because it depended on conditions such as accepting homosexuality.