Two groups in Ethiopia said they will hold an anti-gay demonstration later this month, a move that puts Ethiopia in line to become the next African country to increase the public demonisation of gays.
The government-affiliated Addis Ababa Youth Forum and a religious group associated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church told a news conference on Thursday that an increasing rate of homosexual acts in the country had reached an alarming rate.
"Children are being raped by gay people in this country. Just yesterday we have met a woman whose boy was raped by two other men. All in all, gay acts are against health, the law, religion and our culture, so we should break the silence and create awareness about it," said Dereje Negash, chairman of the church group, the Weyiniye Abune Tekelehaimanot Association.
Although gay sex is already outlawed in Ethiopia, the rally set for April 26 in the capital Addis Ababa comes as parliament considers making homosexual acts ineligible for presidential pardons.
The bill was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and could be put to a vote this month. In Ethiopia, 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.
The Ethiopian government, however, insisted that any group had the right to freedom of expression and that it was not for or against the rally.
"We are indifferent, we just see it as the right to have a demonstration, otherwise we don't support or oppose," Information Minister Redwan Hussein told AFP news agency.
Though the organisers said that there was no specific reason for the timing of the planned demonstration, a prominent blogger and gay activist said that gay-bashing rhetoric was likely to increase in the run-up to elections for parliament next year.
Ezana Solomon said the anti-gay movement was trying to invade personal privacy under the banner of child protection.
"I refuse to be labeled a rapist, molester or an abuser since I have never committed those things ever. I think the logical or right thing to do is when I have committed those crimes, I should [be] put to justice. This campaign is not justifiable under any circumstance," Ezana said.
"If someone thinks my being gay is a sin, in my opinion the only thing you are allowed or should be allowed to do is to pray for me and your boundary ends there."
The demonstration organisers said the protest would be held under the theme "Keeping alien culture and homosexuality at bay".
They said they hope to see thousands of residents and some senior government officials come to the protest.
"Gay practices are not our culture so we wanted the society to be aware of the danger and protect itself,'' said Tsegaye Gebretsadik, chairman of the Addis Ababa Youth Forum.
New legislation in Uganda and Nigeria this year increased penalties for homosexual acts sending many gays underground and some out of the country.