Prosecutors in the Gambian capital, Banjul, have brought new, more severe criminal charges against 20 people who were arrested and accused of putting on an indecent dance ceremony for tourists on April 6, including men dressed as women, Associated Press reported.
The previous charge had been “indecent practices.” The new charge is “unnatural offenses,” which is a felony. In previous reports on the case, the number of defendants has varied from 18 to 21.
The 20 defendants — 18 allegedly gay men and two allegedly lesbian women — all pleaded not guilty. They were arrested during a dancing ceremony held at a fitness center at Kololi village about 18 kilometers outside Banjul, the the Gambian/Senegalese website Jellofnews Online reported.
Defendants were also charged with conspiring to commit a felony by financing an occasion in which an indecent act was about to be committed.
The defendants include one man from Nigeria and one from Senegal. The other 18 are from The Gambia.
In court proceedings on Thursday, April 19, police detective Abdoulie Sowe testified that he had been dispatched by his superiors “to go to the tourist area where ‘some group of people alleged to be homosexuals’ were organizing a program.’’
In the bar at the Elite Fitness Center in Kololi where the dancing program was taking place, he testified, he was surprised to see “the accused before me dressed as female, dancing and moving as women. I then used my digital camera and took pictures of the scene.’’
Jellofnews Online reported further:
He said his move aroused suspicion as one of the suspects complained, and urged him to delete the pictures taken. “I was approached by one of the suspects Kebba Ceesay who asked me why I was taking photos. I told him this is the first time I am seeing people behaving like women.”
Detective Sowe told the Court that he spared no efforts to use his discretion as police detective to get Kebba Ceesay out of the premises.
He further told the court that together with members of the Task Force Unit, Kebba Ceesay was escorted to Kotu Police station where he revealed that he was among the chief organisers.
Under cross examination by defense attorney Lamin S. Camara, Sowe said he could not remember how many people were at the dance. Camara claimed that men and women were dancing, not men dressed as women.
Sowe said he could not identify all the suspects because all of them had dressed like women, the Gambian newspaper The Point reported.
The case was continued to Monday, April 23.
Under Gambian law, homosexual activities are punishable by a 14-year prison term, but the defendants in this case do not face that charge.