BY JUERGEN BAETZ
BRUSSELS -- Refugees facing imprisonment in their home country because they are gay may have grounds to be granted asylum in the European Union, the 28-nation bloc's top court ruled Thursday.
The existence of laws imprisoning gay people "may constitute an act of persecution per se" if they are routinely enforced, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled.
A gay person cannot be expected to conceal his sexual orientation in his home country to avoid persecution, since it would amount to renouncing a "characteristic fundamental to a person's identity," the court added.
International treaties say people must prove they have a "well-founded fear" of persecution for reasons of race, religion, ethnicity or political opinion if they are to obtain asylum.
The European court ruled on the cases of three people from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
Worldwide, more than 70 countries have laws that are used to criminalize people on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the International Commission of Jurists, an advocacy group. The laws typically prohibit either certain types of sexual activity or contain a blanket ban on intimacy and sexual activity between members of the same sex.