A Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria says the country’s government is “wrong” to be “punishing” gay Nigerians.

The Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, has condemned Nigeria’s draconian anti-gay legislation, saying the Catholic Church is against “the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations”.

Speaking to Catholic publication The Tablet at The Vatican on Monday, Archbishop Kaigama said the Church only supported the elements of the law that set out that marriage is between a man and a woman.

He added that there had been a “gross misinterpretation” of this by the media.

“We are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations,” Archbishop Kaigama stressed. “We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished.”

Referring to Nigeria’s government he added: “The government may want to punish them – we don’t. In fact we will tell the government to stop punishing those with different orientations.”

Nigeria strengthened laws against same-sex sexual activity at the start of the year by banning same-sex marriages, gay groups and shows of same-sex public affection.

Punishments can include jail terms of up to 14 years.

President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to repeal the legislation.