George Reginald Freeman

A gay activist in Sierra Leone narrowly escaped death when he was attacked after being outed by a local newspaper.

Africa Review reported on Friday that George Reginald Freeman, director of the Pride Equality organisation, was assaulted by two men on Wednesday last week.

The attackers, each on a motorbike, intercepted Freeman while he was driving in the capital city of Freetown and threw rocks at his vehicle.

They then beat him when he tried to flee the wrecked car. “All calls for help from passers-by fell on deaf ears,” Freeman said.

The attack took place on the same day that an article, titled “I was born a gay,” was published by the tabloid Exclusive Newspaper.

The article profiled Freeman as an openly gay man, said to be a first for a local newspaper, and became the subject of widespread public debate and discussion.

Freeman, however, says he never actually spoke to the tabloid nor gave it permission to publish the article.

In addition to the attack, he has since also received a barrage of homophobic text messages.

One reads, “We know you people. We are coming after you, you bloody homosexuals,” while another says, “This is just the beginning!”

The article was based on one published by the UK-based MTV network on its MTV Voices website, which was not widely accessible to Sierra Leoneans.

The newspaper’s editors said that they simply intended to spark debate on the issue of LGBT rights.

The attack on Freeman came just days after the release by the US-based Global Rights and it Sierra Leonean partners, Dignity Association and Pride Equality, of a report on the state of the LGBTI community in the West African country.

The report found that “LGBTI individuals in Sierra Leone are frequently subjected to discrimination and high levels of verbal abuse, violence and harassment by public officials, members of their communities and even their own families”.

The research also “reveals the overwhelming silence from the LGBTI and human rights communities as fear of exposure and association prevails”.

Consensual sex between men is illegal in Sierra Leone and carries a possible penalty of life imprisonment (with hard labour), although the law is seldom enforced.

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