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Ivory Coast: Activists under attack by anti-gay mobs

"Stop homos" says a sign posted by neighbors of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire)

“Stop homos” says a sign posted by neighbors of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

An angry mob this week shouted death threats, hurled rocks and garbage, and protested outside the new home of three LGBT rights activists who had just moved into an upscale neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Alternative Cote d’Ivoire, an advocacy group that fights for LGBT rights and against AIDS, reported that police intervened on Jan. 20 before the mob could hurl Molotov cocktails that they were preparing.

Police escorted the men  to safety, but the local police chief told them the next day to move out of the neighborhood, the group said.

Bags of garbage were dumped outside the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire)

Bags of garbage were dumped outside the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

On Jan. 21, death threats and angry protests resumed outside the home, so the Alternative CI executive director, Claver Touré, and staff members Marc Arthur Able and Béranger Gadié slept at the Alternative CI office, 200 meters away, because they were afraid to return home.

On the night of Jan. 22, that office was vandalized. In the morning of Jan. 23, about 20 youths threw rocks at the office for more than a half-hour.

“We are seriously fearful for our safety,” Touré said.

Ivory Coast has its share of people who dislike homosexuals, but it is not one of the 76-plus countries with laws against homosexuality. In fact, in 2011 Touré described the country as an “El Dorado” for LGBT people, at least in comparison to many other African countries.

This window at the Alternative Cote d'Ivoire office was smashed on Jan. 22. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire)

This window at the Alternative Cote d’Ivoire office was smashed in an attack on Jan. 22. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

That aspect of the country was not visible on Jan. 20.  Soon after returning home from work shortly before 7 p.m., Touré said, the three Alternative CI staff members noticed that a crowd of about 60 people had assembled outside, whistling and banging on pots and pans. They threatened the occupants of the “faggot house,” shouting, “We will kill them,” “We don’t want fags in our city,” “We don’t want people with AIDS in our neighborhood,” “We’ll kill you all,” “We don’t want people working with AIDS and queers here,” “Damn you! We’ll burn your ass.”  Alternatives Cote d’Ivoire reported further:

The mob kept up the racket as it tried to break down the doors of the house  with rocks and metal bars.  They threw garbage and human excrement, then prepared Molotov cocktails to burn the building and the people inside. The police arrived just in time to intervene.

Touré, along with the assistant coordinator and the human rights/legal officer of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire, were trapped in the house for more than an hour until police were able to smuggle them out safely.

"No fags," says a sign posted at the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire)

“No fags,” says a sign posted at the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

They were taken to the police station. There, Touré filed a complaint against city officials and the owner of the building, each of whom had urged Alternative to move out and warned that neighbors were planning to an attack.

That aspect of the dispute began after Touré rented the building so he could live  closer to his workplace. After moving there in late December 2013, he was visited on Jan. 5 by the building’s owner and manager, who said that city officials wanted the men evicted because it would allegedly house 20 homosexuals and that “tons” of condoms were left throughout the area every morning.

He said that only three men would be in the building  and that they had only been there for a week, with few visitors because their new home was not yet well known.

The owner also told them that she wanted them to leave because youths in the neighborhood were planning on attacking them.

On the day after the Jan. 20 attack, the LGBT activists and police met again at the police station and immediately began arguing.

The argument began after the chief asked a colleague whether he had “handled the case of the queers who disturbed public order.”

"No to fags in our city. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to a woman, not to a man," says a sign posted at the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire)

“No to fags in our city. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to a woman, not to a man,” says a sign posted at the home of LGBT rights activists in Ivory Coast. (Photo courtesy of Alternative Cote d’Ivoire)

The chief then turned to the Alternatives CI staff and said, “You’re the ones who are  pimping and running a brothel, huh?”

Touré denied it and added, “You should listen to us first.”

“But you admitted that yesterday in the presence of the duty officer,” the chief said.

Touré denied that also.

The chief responded, “So you mean that the officer lied? In any case, I don’t want to hear about homosexuality in my town.”

Agence de Presse Africaine (APA) reported the incidents quite differently, adopting the neighbors’ anti-gay position in an article that Abidjan.net titled, “Eviction of a group of homosexuals in a posh neighborhood of Abidjan.”

The article begins, “A group of homosexuals, posing a threat to the education of children in a district of Abidjan, was driven off Tuesday evening by local residents.”

Alternative Cote d'Ivoire logo

Alternative Cote d’Ivoire logo

The article stated that, “During a meeting to justify their actions, the angry neighbors denounced sex acts between men that occurred in the street, right next to the walls of the house of Claver Touré.”

It quoted a city official as saying, “We protect our children, we want them to grow up in a healthy environment. We are in no way homophobic.”

Neighbors said they had found condoms in the area. “Our children told us they regularly saw men kissing,” one mother said. The gay men had also talked to their children, neighbors said.

Neighbors said they presented the gay men with a petition urging them to leave, but were rejected and threatened.

Both sides in the dispute cited an attempted kidnapping that went wrong when the kidnappers seized the wrong man. In the APA article, a neighbor implied that the kidnappers were working for the gays. A statement by Alternative CI,  however, said Touré was the intended victim.

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