International Development minister Ivan Lewis has attacked the recent decision by the government of Burundi to criminalise gay sex.

Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, secretly signed the legislation into law on April 22th. It will punish offenders with up to two years in prison.

During a visit to the country, Lewis called for the law to be repealed.

In a meeting with President Nkurunziza, Mr Lewis warned him he was out of step with global opinion.

Mr Lewis said: “In any society, it should be totally unacceptable to criminalise anyone because of their sexual orientation.

“I have raised with the President the UK’s concerns about the new penal code which criminalises gay sex.

“The UK government has made it clear to the President and the government of Burundi that this legislation is unacceptable and should be repealed as a matter of urgency.

He added: “It is my sincere hope that the government of Burundi listens to the UK, the EU and other members of the international community and repeals this law.

“It must allow Burundi’s gay and lesbian community to live their lives free from harassment, intimidation and the threat of jail.”

In March, the lower house of the African country’s parliament reversed a Senate vote which rejected the amendment to the new criminal code.

However, thousands of citizens took to the streets in a government-organised demonstration to protest at the Senate decision not to criminalise homosexuality.

Under the Burundian constitution, the National Assembly prevails in cases of conflict between the two houses of Parliament

The new law makes being gay a crime for the first time in the country’s history.

Gay and human rights groups are campaigning to have the law repealed, saying it violates fundamental human rights.

Campaigners claim that the law’s Article 567, which penalises consensual same-sex sexual relations by adults with up to two years in prison, violates the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination.

There are also fears the new legislation will hamper efforts to fight AIDS.

Other changes to the law include abolishing the death penalty and introducing new laws against genocide, war crimes and torture.