JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Homophobic attacks in sub-Saharan Africa have reached "dangerous" levels, the human rights group Amnesty International warned in a report on Tuesday.

"Homosexual acts" are increasingly being criminalized across the continent, with governments seeking to impose harsh penalties, including capital punishment, according to the report.

“These attacks — sometimes deadly — must be stopped. No one should be beaten or killed because of who they are attracted to or intimately involved with,” Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s director of law and policy, said in a statement.

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The report, titled "Making Love a Crime," documents the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, often at the hands of their governments.

“In too many cases these attacks on individuals and groups are being fueled by key politicians and religious leaders who should be using their position to fight discrimination and promote equality," Brown said.

According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is now a crime in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In the last five years, South Sudan and Burundi have introduced new laws criminalizing same-sex relations.

Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria have bills before parliament that aim to increase existing penalties.

Uganda’s notorious anti-homosexuality bill has been re-introduced to parliament several times since 2009, and seeks to impose the death penalty for "aggravated" homosexuality. It would also criminalize failure to report violations within 24 hours.

In South Africa, gay rights are formally recognized and protected under the country's progressive post-apartheid constitution. But despite this, lesbians and gays in townships and rural communities are often the target of violent acts, including rape and murder.

“The very existence of laws criminalizing same-sex relations — whether they are enforced or not — sends a toxic message that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are criminals and have no rights,” Brown said.

“These poisonous laws must be repealed and the human rights of all Africans upheld.”

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