- Mauritian activist Matthew Parr says Mauritius must decriminalise gay sex. Many of the tourists who visit the tropical island don’t realise the law exists.
The writer Mark Twain said ‘Mauritius was made first and then heaven was copied after Mauritius’.
Boy, was he right! The tropical paradise is one of Africa’s wealthiest tourist destinations and is one of the world’s top luxury places to visit. It’s clear why almost 1.4million visitors fly in every year.
Yet for LGBT+ people, it is also a place where our lives are criminalised and where we still live in the shadow of British colonisation.
But this year, that may change.
Five years in jail under a law dating from colonial times
Various countries across Africa and southern Asia still have harmful anti-homosexuality laws in place that were first introduced under British rule. And Mauritius is among them, despite the fact we gained independence from British rule in 1968.
LGBT+ life in Mauritius still remains fairly discrete. So many visitors probably do not realise that the island makes ‘sodomy’ illegal. Under Section 250 of the Mauritian Criminal Code Act, which dates from 1898, it is punishable by up to five years jail.
In 2018, LGBT+ people in Mauritius had to cancel their plans to hold a Pride after anti-gay campaigners threatened them. Many of those protesting the plans for Pride quoted Section 250.
The law in Mauritius violates individual constitutional rights and freedoms. In particular, it breaches the island’s Equal Opportunities Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Of course, sadly Mauritius is not alone. Same-sex relationships are a crime in more than 70 countries around the world, almost half of them in Africa. But recently several countries have scrapped their law and that has encouraged LGBT+ Mauritians to challenge Section 250.
In particular, it has been inspirational and motivational to see LGBT+ people overturn the law in Angola, Seychelles, Botswana and India.
The case against Section 250
Abdool Ridwan Firaas Ah Seek, aged 29, originally brought a legal case last year challenging the constitutionality of Section 250.
The case had its first hearing by the Supreme Court in October 2019. And another hearing should take place this February.
The Collectif Arc-En-Ciel (CAEC), a human rights organisation in Mauritius working to improve the lives of LGBT+ people, is supporting Ah Seek’s case.
Meanwhile Mauritian activist Najeeb Fokeerbux, also aged 29 and founder of the Young Queer Alliance, has said that he too will be challenging the law, alongside three other young people.
Together they will work with Ah Seek and local and regional partners.
They will argue that, although the law is rarely used, it still damages the LGBT+ community and all Mauritians.
Mauritian citizens are an eclectic mix of French, Indian, Creole and Chinese people. They are renowned for their hospitality and for accepting cultural differences. So it is disappointing that they live with such strict laws. And, of course, it is outdated and violates human rights.
Supporting Mauritius to change the anti-gay law
I myself am of Mauritian descent and an active member of the LGBT+ community, although I live in Brighton, UK.
I take personal offence to the law and will be working alongside the activists to help decriminalise homosexuality in Mauritius. This outdated law undermines our freedom to be who we truly are.
Over the next few weeks, I aim to meet fellow activist Fokeerbux and his colleagues at La MariPosa Hotel, Grand Rivière Noir situated south-west of the island.
This venue prides itself as one of the few hotels that is confidently LGBT+ friendly on the island.
We will discuss what progress has been made so far, the challenging of Article 250, the human rights violations which LGBT+ people face and more.
The Republic of Mauritius is such a beautiful island. But when we look at the beauty around this, the old colonial laws cast a long shadow. And they have no place in our time now.
I want 2020 to bring Mauritius into a place that promotes equality, diversity and inclusion. And most importantly we need it to bring equal rights for LGBT+ people.
I’ll update GSN readers on our progress in the hope of gaining international support for LGBT+ Mauritians.