Legislation that would punish Nigerian gay and lesbian couples for living together has been condemned by Amnesty International.

Earlier this month the House of Representatives approved the second reading of a bill “to prohibit marriage between persons of same gender.”

The bill would punish people of the same sex who live together “as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship” with up to three years of imprisonment.

Anyone who “witnesses, abet[s] and aids” such a relationship could be imprisoned for up to five years.

“It is simply unacceptable to single out one group of people to be deprived of the rights we all enjoy,” said Aster Van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher.

“Legalising discrimination is reprehensible in itself and can only promote acts of hatred.”

Amnesty said the proposed law, which would require the approval of the Senate and the President, violates the rights to freedom from discrimination, freedom of private and family life, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of association, guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution and by human rights treaties.

Concerns were raised in a joint public statement issued by the Nigerian Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Nigerian nongovernmental organisations, and Amnesty International.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on gay rights has called for a suspension of EU aid to Nigeria.

“The only result this law is going to achieve is a raising hatred against gay, lesbian and transgender citizens of Nigeria,” said Michael Cashman, Labour MEP and President of the LGBT Intergroup.

“I do not understand how legislators in such a big and diverse country can be so cruel and indifferent to millions of their own people who are already such a marginalised and oppressed minority in their country.”

The Intergroup is sending a request to the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid to evaluate the financial support given to Nigeria unless the state homophobia in the country is terminated.

Nigerian law states that anyone who has “carnal knowledge of any person against order of nature or permits a male to have carnal knowledge of him” can be imprisoned for 14 years.

In 2007 the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill was debated in the Nigerian Parliament but did not proceed.

It called for imprisonment for any person who “goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex,” anyone who helps them and any gay clubs or organisations.