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Zanzibar Moves to Ban Homosexuality - 2004-04-16

Zanzibar's president is expected to sign legislation outlawing homosexuality and gay marriages in what some observers see as a clear sign of rising Muslim fundamentalism on the island.

A member of Zanzibar's Joint Presidential Supervisory Commission, Asha Juma, told VOA Thursday, the law to ban homosexuality is aimed at protecting Tanzania's religion, culture and moral standards. The commission was set up by Zanzibar's two main political parties to coordinate key policies.

Ms. Juma says, through trade and tourism, the semi-autonomous island has been exposed to practices, such as homosexuality, which, she says, run contrary to Islam. She blamed homosexuals for the rising number of what she calls misdemeanors and misbehaviors.

"[In] Islam, from the day one, that thing is not allowed, not permitted," said Asha Juma. "It used to be punished by law. The law was there, but it was not so codified as it is now."

Zanzibar's parliament enacted the ban on gay sex unanimously on Tuesday, and sent it to the president for signature. The law punishes male homosexual acts by up to 25 years in prison and imposes a maximum seven-year jail term for female homosexual acts. Same-sex marriages are prohibited, and even those attending same-sex weddings could be punished.

A Western diplomat, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, says the bill is a clear sign of rising Islamic fundamentalism on the island. He said the hard-line influence comes largely from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and some other Gulf countries.

The diplomat says, with this legislation, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party appears to be appealing to the overwhelming Muslim population ahead of the 2005 elections.

Ms. Juma says the ban on homosexuality is not a concession to Muslim extremists. "There's no connection with that bill and those Islam extremists," she said.

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous island which forms part of Tanzania.