Blair tight-lipped over Liberia's anti-gay laws

  • @_richardhall

During his time as prime minister, Tony Blair championed equal rights for gay people and introduced a host of laws to improve equal rights. But the former Labour leader may face some difficult questions after the release of a joint video interview in which he refused to respond to comments by the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in support of her country's repressive laws targeting gay people.

Homosexual acts are punishable by one year in jail under Liberia's sodomy laws, and proposals have been put forward to make it a felony for same-sex couples to be in a relationship, which would carry a 10-year sentence.

Sitting alongside Mr Blair in a joint interview, Nobel peace prize-winner President Sirleaf was questioned about the laws. "We like ourselves just the way we are. We've got certain traditional values that we would like to preserve," she told the Guardian. Mr Blair, who was visiting the country in his capacity as the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity that aims to strengthen African governments, remained silent.

When asked by the interviewer about President Sirleaf's remarks, and about Liberia's laws in general, Mr Blair said: "I'm not giving you an answer on it. One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don't. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery." He added that wanted to "restrict" his comments to the issues he is working on in Liberia.

Mr Blair's silence might come as a shock to gay rights activists in the UK, given his record. His government was responsible for introducing civil partnerships, reducing the age of consent for gay couples to 16, and removing a ban on gay people in the military.

His efforts to improve gay rights were roundly praised by campaigners upon leaving office.