activists_protest_gambia_anti_gay_bill_in_londonA group of African LGBTI activists and their British allies have called on Gambia’s president to not sign a new anti-gay bill into law.

The protesters demonstrated against the proposed law, which will increase already harsh penalties against homosexuality, outside the Gambian embassy in London on Wednesday.

Holding up placards calling for an end to the persecution of gay people, the demonstrators urged President Yahya Jammeh to reject the pending legislation.

The bill was passed by Gambia’s National Assembly on 25 August. If made law, it will make “aggravated homosexuality” punishable with life imprisonment.

Among those who could be given a life sentence are LGBTI “repeat offenders” and people living with HIV who are LGBTI.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Gambia and those found guilty face up to 14 years in prison. President Jammeh has previously expressed deeply homophobic sentiments and has even threatened to execute gays and lesbians in his country.

“Life is horrible for LGBTIs in Gambia,” commented Modou (not his real name), a Gambian gay man who participated in the London protest.

“There’s no freedom to be yourself. Before Jammeh came to power there were anti-gay laws but most people weren’t homophobic. The president is using homosexuality as a scapegoat issue to direct public attention away from his economic and human rights failures. He brainwashes society by using Islamic leaders to escalate the issue as a religious matter,” he said.

Ousman, another Gambian gay man at the demonstration, added that, “Because of religion, people hate homosexuals. Once they know, you can be killed by the community. Jammeh has empowered the public and Islamic clerics to kill LGBTIs. You can be beaten to death, beheaded or stoned. They regard us as people with mental problems and possessed by demons. You live in constant fear of your life.”

Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, acknowledged that President Jammeh is likely to sign the Gambia anti-gay bill, but he expressed hope that he might still have a last minute change of heart and return it to the National Assembly for amendment to strike out the anti-gay clauses.

“This bill is a violation of the Gambian constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and this year’s resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” added Tatchell.

Richard Banabakintu, the coordinator of the protest, urged the African Union, United Nations, European Union, business leaders and international statesmen “to speak out against this bill and against all other anti-gay laws in Gambia.”

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