A 'national embarrassment' for Ethiopia was averted after religious groups tried to disrupt the gay presence at a prestigious HIV/Aids conference.
The 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs) in Africa (ICASA) opened in Addis Ababa 4 December. Prior to the event, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (Amsher) had planned a pre-conference meeting for 200 people but when they turned up to the Jupiter hotel they were told the facilities were no longer available. This followed a loud campaign against their event by religious leaders in Ethiopia's media.
A truncated Amsher event eventually went ahead using UN facilities but religious groups planned a press conference to continue to agitate against the group. This was called off at the last minute according to reports after the intervention of the Ethiopian government, worried about the 'embarrassment' associated with such disruption to such a huge international conference presence in Addis - 10,000 people were at the event - and the potential to divert future conferences.
Reports said that Minister of Health Dr Tewodros Astnahom held a closed-door meeting with the religious leaders. After the meeting, one of the religious leaders from the Ethiopian Protestant Church, Pastor Eitefa Gobena, told journalists that the press conference was not taking place.
A newspaper photographer was forced by government security to delete some of the pictures he took in the press conference room.
According to Global Voices, the debate on the religious attack on LGBT shifted online.
In December 2008 a campaign was started by Ethiopian religious leaders called “United for Life.” This was reportedly limited to urging the parliament to ban homosexuality in the constitution, but the Rainbow Ethiopia LGBT/MSM group reported that the religious coalition was actually calling for the death penalty for gays.
They said that the local media was engaged in “open psychological homophobic war to agitate the general society” against the LGBT community.
Kent Klindera the Director of MSM Initiatives at The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) told Behind The Mask:
“There is major concern for the Ethiopian LGBT activists who will be here after the conference ends. The director of a group that amfAR supports has received death threats.”These claims came after a Pepfar (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) funded study tour sponsored by EngenderHealth, a leading international reproductive health organization working to improve the quality of health care in the world’s poorest communities that sought to learn more on access of MSM (men who have sex with men) to HIV prevention and treatment.
“Recently, a local newspaper published an article purporting that the group had gone to Kenya learn ‘how to promote and spread homosexuality in Ethiopia.’ ”
“I am working with several other global organizations to ensure that they have protection and are informed and empowered about security strategies to allow continue to do their work.”