A gay rights activist in Sierra Leone narrowly escaped death on May 22 at the hands of two unidentified assailants who attacked him in his car.
The attack on George Reginald Freeman, executive director of the LGBT rights group Pride Equality, came on the day when a local tabloid, Exclusive Newspaper, publicized his sexual orientation by republishing prominently an online article titled “Being Gay in Sierra Leone” that Freeman wrote for MTV Voices in July 2012.
Freeman blamed the newspaper for inciting public hatred by republishing the article without his consent.
“The tabloid headline, ‘I was born a gay’, was a hot topic of the day as it was the first time a local newspaper featured a gay activist speaking out openly about his sexual orientation,” Africa Review reported. That news account stated:
[Freeman] had his car destroyed as he was being beaten by two men on a motor bike who intercepted him while driving in an isolated suburb of the capital, Freetown. …
The story [in MTV Voices and in Exclusive Newspaper] details the activist’s life as a homosexual living in a hostile environment and having to deal with an intolerant family.
When it appeared on the MTV Voices website in July last year, very few Sierra Leoneans took note of it.
Editors at Exclusive Newspaper say they wanted to open the debate on gay rights, which is a very divisive topic in the country. They deny seeking to hurt anyone.
But Mr Freeman’s organisation insist that the paper should have known better.
The activist displayed text messages brimming with homophobic attacks following the publication of the story.
Among the threats were text messages stating:
- “We know you people. We are coming after you, you bloody homosexuals” and
- “This is just the beginning!”
Gay Star News reported:
Following the publication Freeman received anti-gay hate messages and threats and as a precautionary measure against a possible attack he drove to a local hotel, for temporary hiding.
‘I was afraid that an attack was imminent and I thought the best move was to stay away from my apartment,’ he said.
He was half way through to his destination when a motorbike rider suddenly appeared in front of him. At the same time a second one appeared on the driver`s side and threw a heavy stone his way.
The glass on both sides of his car windows was shattered.
As he attempted to escape, he was intercepted and beaten up, with his attackers using broken glasses and sharp metal objects.
‘All calls for help from passers-by fell on deaf ears,’ he lamented.
Police said they were investigating.
The incident came shortly after the first report by the Washington, D.C.-based human rights group Global Rights on the treatment of LGBTI people in Sierra Leone. In an article titled “It’s a tough life for Sierra Leone’s gay community,” Africa Review said the report describes Sierra Leone’s “deep-seated culture of discrimination and violence,” which strips LGBTI people of “their basic human rights by systematically being denied basic services as punishment for their sexual orientation.”
Sexual activity between men is illegal in Sierra Leone. The law provides for punishment as severe as life in prison. However, according to the US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report, the law is not enforced “due to the secrecy surrounding homosexual conduct and the tendency for communities to discriminate against individuals rather than to enforce legal codes.”
Freeman has been the target of harassment previously. In July 2011, he was on the scene when police raided an LGBT party that was under physical attack by an anti-gay crowd. Police arrested the party-goers rather than their attackers, and Freeman protested that decision after he worked to free the arrestees.
In November 2011, after appearing on a radio show about LGBT rights, Freeman and his colleagues were thrown out of their homes by their families and received anonymous threats.
- Sierra Leone gay activist survives attempt on his life (Africa Review, May 24, 2013)
- HRD George Reginald Freeman attacked and threatened in Sierra Leone (thoolen.wordpress.com, May 24, 2013)
- Sierra Leone gay activist escapes broken glass murder attempt (Gay Star News, May 27, 2013)
- In Sierra Leone, homophobic attack on GBT party leads to police detaining party-goers (madikazemi.blogspot.com, July 2011)
- Sierra Leone LGBTI activists suffer after radio appearance (LGBT Asylum News, November 2011)