Gambia urged to drop life sentence for gays
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Rights campaigners called on Friday for Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to reverse laws introducing a new crime of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life imprisonment.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement that the new criminal code signed by Jammeh on October 9 could be used to target “repeat offenders” and people living with HIV.
“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,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty's deputy regional director said in the statement.
“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.”
Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, brooks no dissent in a country often blasted by rights bodies for abuses and homophobia.
He has repeatedly denounced homosexuality and once vowed to behead gays, although he later retracted the threat.
Last year, Jammeh told the United Nations General Assembly that “those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence”.
“It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behaviour,” he said.
Before October, same-sex relationships were already punishable by up to 14 years in jail in The Gambia.
As recently as Tuesday, Amnesty accused the regime of torturing citizens arrested in the latest crackdown on homosexuality in the conservative west African nation.
The campaign group said the country's spy agency and presidential guard had beaten and forced confessions from five men, including a 17-year-old, and three women since November 7.
Exactly what constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law, say Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, which voiced concern that the new punishment could be used arbitrarily.
“President Jammeh's inflammatory public statements against LGBTI people have been put into practise through this odious law and the witch hunt that followed its secretive passage,” said Monica Tabengwa, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. - Sapa-AFP