Gambia’s President Adama Barrow said homosexuality is not an issue in the West African country, an act that can send one in the country to prison for life.
What constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law but the administration of former President Yahya Jammeh passed an “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.
Rights groups say it makes Gambia’s criminalization of homosexual activity – which already violates international law – even more likely to be used broadly and arbitrarily.
The EU withheld more than €33 million in aid to the Gambia over the deteriorating human rights conditions and concerns over the targeting of the LGBT community.
An act of homosexuality already carries a minimum 14-year prison term.
Barrow said, “homosexuality has never been an issue in this country” and that there are economic and other social issues that are more of a priority.
Homosexuality is not a popular political issue and Barrow’s Minister of Tourism Hamat Bah said last year that “homosexuality will never be allowed in The Gambia.”
Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh said homosexuality is anti-god, anti-human, and anti-civilization. He called homosexuals vermins and threatened to slit their throat.
State security agents rounded up tens of people suspected of being homosexuals. Some were charged but were acquitted by the court in 2015.
Political activists say Jammeh used homosexuality as an affront to gain popularity in the majority Muslim nation and consolidate power, blaming Western governments of using aid to force him into accepting homosexuality.
Jammeh declared the country and Islamic Republic and Barrow has pledged to overturn that decision.
Whether the Barrow administration will repeal the aggravated homosexuality law or not remains unknown but there are pledges to repeal many of the draconian laws passed by Jammeh during his 22-year rule.