By ELIAS MESERET
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — A planned anti-gay rally that would have made Ethiopia the latest African country to demonize gays has been cancelled, officials said Wednesday.
In addition, plans by the legislature to add gay sex to a list of crimes not eligible for presidential pardons has been dropped, said Redwan Hussein, a government spokesman.
Hostility toward gays across Africa is high. Uganda and Nigeria increased penalties against gay acts this year. Homosexuals in other countries face severe discrimination and harmful physical attacks.
Gay Ethiopians still face severe penalties for living in the open. Same-sex acts are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A 25-year jail term is given to anyone convicted of infecting another person with HIV during same-sex acts.
But the government does not appear ready to further demonize homosexuals. Redwan said the anti-gay rally was on certain groups’ agenda, but not the government’s.
“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,” said Redwan, who confirmed that gay crimes would not be added to the list of unpardonable crimes.
Two groups had been planning to hold a large anti-gay rally in Addis Ababa on April 26. Dereje Negash, chairman of a religious group affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said the cancellation came after people inside the church asked the government to prevent the rally.
“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.