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The tiny island of Mauritius is seeking to overturn a colonial-era law against gay sex

Emma Powys Maurice October 2, 2019

The island of Mauritius is home to just 1.3 million people, but attracts over 1.4 million tourists each year (Creative Commons)

Four gay men from the tiny Indian Ocean island of Mauritius are fighting to appeal a colonial-era law that criminalises homosexuality.

The 2,040kmisland is famous for its palm-fringed white beaches and turquoise seas, which attract more than 1.4 million tourists each year. Its criminalisation of homosexuality is less well known.

Although Mauritius is more tolerant of LGBT+ people than many countries in its neighbouring continent Africa, homosexuality is still taboo and homosexual sex is punishable by up to five years in jail.

29-year-old Najeeb Ahmad Fokeerbux of the Mauritian LGBT+ group Young Queer Alliance is one of the four plaintiffs challenging the anti-gay law, known as section 250.

“Gay and bisexual men face a lot of physical and verbal violence in society,” he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It manifests itself on the roads, in educational settings especially in schools, even while you are travelling on the bus. People can just start shouting abuse or even attacking you.”

Mauritius is known as a tropical island paradise, but LGBT+ Mauritians often experience prejudice (Creative Commons)

He explained that although section 250 is rarely enforced, it encourages anti-gay attitudes and legitimises intolerance, stigma and prejudice against sexual minorities.

Last year Mauritius was forced to cancel its annual Pride march due to death threats from anti-LGBT+ campaigners, some of whom quoted section 250.

“We know that homophobia won’t end with the law being scrapped. But it’s a step in the right direction,” said Fokeerbux.

Changes to LGBT+ laws in nearby countries like Angola, Botswana, India and the Seychelles are “inspirational and comforting” for Mauritius’ LGBT+ community.

The next Supreme Court hearing is expected on October 14, and although it may take up to two years to reach a decision, Fokeerbux and his fellow plaintiffs are optimistic they may finally see change.

“Many LGBT+ people and others do not want to come on holiday to a country where they cannot relax and be free,” he said. “By scrapping the law, Mauritius will be telling the world that all people are welcome and that they can come and be safe here.”

More: Africa, decriminalisation of gay sex, Mauritius, sodomy anti-gay laws

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