Gambia has passed a bill that is imposing life imprisonment for committing some homosexual acts, making the political climate worse for sexual minorities living in a country with one of Africa’s most vocal anti-gay leaders.
According to the minority leader Samba Jallow, the bill that amends the criminal code was passed last month, bringing life sentences for the practitioners of “aggravated homosexuality”. The charge is also pointed at repeat offenders and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Jallow had said that while his National Reconciliation Party did not condone homosexuality, he voted against the bill along with one other lawmaker. Homosexual acts had already been punishable by up to 14 years in prison under a Gambian law that was amended in 2005 to apply to women in as well as men.
The bill is yet to be approved by President Yahya Jammeh, an autocratic ruler famous for speeches against Western powers, who in 2008 threatened gay men and lesbians to leave the country or have their heads cut off.
Speaking on state television in February Jammeh was reported to have said, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”
National Assembly speaker Abdoulie Bojang confirmed the new bill was passed last month but would not provide further details. In addition to “serial offenders” and those living with HIV/Aids, the two pieces of legislation say that examples of “aggravated homosexuality” extends to when the suspect engages in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or drugged, and if the suspect is “in authority over” the other person.
Gambia has launched crackdowns on the country’s gay community before, an example being a 2012 raid at a poolside birthday party in the capital, Banjul where 18 men were arrested. Some of them said they were interrogated and beaten before going through a reputation destroying public trial.
West Africa campaigner for Amnesty International, Francois Patuel has said that the new bill could make life worse for Gambia’s gay people.
“It only adds to the discrimination and to the climate of fear that gays and lesbians…are living under.” He said