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Days after Obama photo, Gambia arrests 12 in gay raids

Despite continuing  violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.
Despite violently anti-gay speeches by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, he was warmly greeted by President Obama during the U.S.-Africa summit in early August 2014.

Police in the west African nation of The Gambia last weekend arrested 12 men on suspicion of homosexuality in a series of “massive raids,” Gambia’s online Kibaaro News reported.
The arrests came a few days after the U.S./Africa summit in Washington, D.C., where Gambia’s strong-man president, Yahya Jammeh, was greeted warmly by gay-friendly President Obama despite Jammeh’s frequent calls for homosexuals to be killed.
In that homophobic nation, the raids were described as if LGBT men in Gambia were involved in a criminal conspiracy. The article stated that the raids targeted “major hideouts” in the area of the capital city, Banjul.
Kibaaro News stated:

“The Gambia Police Force is still hunting for more people suspected of homosexuality in various areas, according to a police informant in Banjul.
” ‘Already we have transferred them from Kairaba Police Station to the Police Headquarters in Banjul, the Gambia’s capital, for questioning,’ according to a Senior Police Officer who preferred anonymity. ‘The investigation is not yet completed, and we are still hunting for others whose names were mentioned during our questioning,’ the officer added.”

Jammeh has often called for homosexuals to leave The Gambia or risk being beheaded, Kibaaro News noted.
Under Gambian law, same-sex intimacy is punishable by 14 years in prison. On paper, only homosexual activity is illegal, not a person’s sexual orientation.  But, as in many homophobic countries, police often arrest LGBT people and suspected LGBT people without regard to their actions, which is how the Gambian raids are described.
Furthermore, The Gambia might toughen its already harsh anti-gay law. Momodou Sabally, Gambia’s secretary general and minister for presidential affairs, said in June that a bill will be submitted to parliament that will seek to “ban all gay rights and homosexuality in the country,” Star Africa reported.  For reasons unrelated to that statement, Sabally was fired from office in July and arrested — reportedly the fourth Gambian secretary general to be arrested by the Jammeh regime.

Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia
Map of Africa shows the West African location of The Gambia

Jammeh frequently launches verbal attacks on LGBT people, calling  homosexuality “satanic,” a threat to population growth, “anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization.”
“If you are convicted of homosexuality in this country, there will be no mercy for offenders. We will put you in the female wing of the prison,” Jammeh has said. “If we catch you, you will regret why you are born.”
During Gambia’s independence day celebrations this year, Jammeh called homosexuals “vermin” and said his government would fight them as it fights malaria-causing mosquitoes.
The most recently publicized crackdown on LGBT people in Gambia came in April 2012, when 20 people were charged with homosexuality-related offenses after a police raid on an alleged “homosexual dance.” After a lengthy detention, all were acquitted in August 2012.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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