Prisoners in Zimbabwe are being denied condoms despite high rates of HIV – because homosexuality is illegal.

The Prison Service said last week that condoms could “encourage” illegal gay sex among the 13,000-strong prison population.

HIV activists, who called the decision “tragic”, have been urging the Prison Service to do more to tackle the disease.

Prison Service deputy commissioner Agrey Huggins Machingauta told a parliamentary committee that while officials are aware that sexual activity happens, “corrective action” can be taken.

“On the issue of condoms, we cannot issue them out to inmates until this House passes legislation to legalise homosexuality in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Zimbabwe not only criminalises gay sex. Under laws enacted by President Mugabe’s regime in 2006, it is illegal for two members of the same sex to hold hands, hug or kiss.