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 allowing the imprisonment of homosexuals ‘‘may constitute an act of persecution per se,’’ if they are routinely enforced, the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said.
A homosexual cannot be expected to conceal his sexual orientation in his home country to avoid persecution since that would amount to renouncing a ‘‘characteristic fundamental to a person’s identity,’’ the EU court added.
It 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 types of sexual activity or contain a blanket ban on intimacy between members of the same sex.
International treaties say people must prove they have a ‘‘well-founded fear’’ of persecution for reasons of race, religion, ethnicity, politics, or membership in a social group targeted by the authorities, if they are to obtain asylum.