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Gambia plans life sentences for gay ‘repeat offenders’

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 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.

The Associated Press reports:

Gambia’s National Assembly has passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said [today, Sept. 8], potentially worsening the climate for sexual minorities in a country with one of Africa’s most vocal anti-gay leaders.

The bill amending the criminal code was passed last month and brings life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality,” minority leader Samba Jallow told The Associated Press.

That is a charge leveled at repeat offenders and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Jallow said that, while his National Reconciliation Party did not condone homosexuality, he voted against the bill along with one other lawmaker.

“In our view, homosexuals did not commit a crime worthy of life imprisonment or any treasonable offense,” he said.

News of the bill has not been spotted on any of the Gambia’s online news sites.

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

The bill now goes to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for his approval.  Jammeh has often launched verbal attacks on LGBT people, calling  homosexuality “satanic,” a threat to population growth, “anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization.”

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.

Under current Gambian law, homosexual activities are punishable by a 14-year prison term.  Despite that law, the Gambia has something of  a reputation as a gay tourism destination.

In June, Momodou Sabally, then Gambia’s secretary general and minister for presidential affairs, said that a bill would be submitted to parliament that would seek to “ban all gay rights and homosexuality in the country,” Star Africa reported.

But gay-related news from the Gambia has featured more verbal attacks than actual arrests.

In April 2012, in one of the most recent publicized crackdowns on LGBT people in Gambia came 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.

Last month, police arrested 12 men on suspicion of homosexuality in a series of  raids, Gambia’s online Kibaaro News reported.

The Associated Press also reported about the bill:

Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup and is famous for speeches condemning Western powers, has not addressed the new bill publicly.

National Assembly Speaker Abdoulie Bojang confirmed the new bill was passed last month but would not provide further details.

A draft seen by The Associated Press contains language identical to a controversial anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda earlier this year.

In addition to “serial offenders” and people living with HIV/AIDS, both pieces of legislation say examples of “aggravated homosexuality” include when the suspect engages in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is “in authority over” him or her.

It was not immediately clear whether there were changes to the draft prior to the National Assembly vote.

For more information, see the full AP story, “Gambia Lawmakers Pass Bill to Jail Gays for Life.”

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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