Gambia’s president signs life sentence anti-gay law

President Yahya Jammeh

President Yahya Jammeh

It’s been confirmed that one of Africa’s most homophobic leaders has signed a new law that will throw gay people into jail for life.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both confirmed that the legislation, which was passed by Gambia’s National Assembly in September, was quietly approved by President Yahya Jammeh on 9 October.

The law creates the new crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” which carries punishments of up to life in prison.

Among those who could be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” are “serial offenders” and people living with HIV who are deemed to be gay or lesbian.

Exactly what constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law. That makes Gambia’s criminalisation of homosexual activity – which already violates international law – even more likely to be used broadly and arbitrarily, noted the organisations.

“The new law treats consensual, private sexual activity between adults of the same sex – which should not be a crime – in the same way as rape and incest,” commented Steve Cockburn, deputy regional director for West and Central Africa at Amnesty International.

“The vague and imprecise provisions of this law could be used to arrest and detain anyone who is believed to be gay or lesbian, and contributes to the already severe climate of hostility and fear for LGBTI people in the country.”

Homosexuality was already illegal in Gambia under British colonial era laws; those found guilty of “unnatural offences” face up to 14 years in prison.

The enactment of the law was followed by a recent wave of arrests of LGBT people in Gambia. At least three women, four men, and a 17-year-old boy were arrested between November 7 and 13 and threatened with torture because of their presumed sexual orientation.

Another six women were arrested on November 18 and 19 and remain in detention, a member of the LGBTI community in Gambia reported.

“Arresting and torturing people based on their sexual orientation is shameful, and inventing new crimes with even harsher sentences is scandalous,” Cockburn said. “Gambia’s new law not only flouts African human rights obligations, it violates its own constitution, which says that all people must be equal and free from discrimination before the law.”

It’s no surprise that President Jammeh signed the legislation. Over the years he’s revealed an obsessive hatred towards gays and lesbians.

In February, he said: “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”

He also stated that “LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

Speaking at the UN in New York in September last year, Jammeh said that homosexuality was amongst the biggest threats facing the world and was “more deadly than all natural disasters put together.”

In 2008, Jammeh – who has been president of Gambia since 1996 – infamously gave gays and lesbians 24 hours to leave the country or face having their heads cut off.

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