Gambia's National Assembly has passed a draconian antigay bill that uses almost identical language as Uganda's since-overturned Anti-Homosexuality Act to provide sentences of up to life in prison for acts of "aggravated homosexuality," reports the Associated Press.
Although it is currently unclear whether Jemmeh will sign the bill, the AP reports the draft legislation is almost identical to Uganda's now-defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overtuned on a parliamentary technicality earlier this year.
At press time, the AP was unable to confirm whether the Gambian legislation approved by parliament had been modified from the draft, which defined acts of "aggravated homosexuality" as those committed by "repeat offenders," people living with HIV, anyone under the age of 18, or anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Homosexuality, in men and women, was already illegal and punishable by 14 years in prison in the west African country, Time notes.
Jemmeh is a notorious homophobe, who once used the floor of the United Nations General Assembly to spout antigay dogma. In his U.N. address, he reportedly classified same-sex attraction as one of the three “biggest threats to human existence.”
Jemmeh, who first seized control of his west African nation in a 1994 military coup, ranked homosexuality, alongside obsession with power and greed, as “more deadly than all natural disasters put together.” In 2008, he gave an ultimatum to the gay and lesbian residents of Gambia, telling them to leave the country or face execution by beheading.
It seems likely that Jemmeh would have observed the progressive increase of economic and other sanctions imposed on Uganda by western countries, including the United States, after it passed its antigay law in February — only to have it repealed by a constitutional court last month.
Regardless of whether or not he was paying attention to the Ugandan experience, Jemmeh is not known for employing reason when deciding issues of national importance. In 2007, he instituted a controversial HIV treatment program in Gambia, which encouraged patients to forgo antiretroviral medication in favor of herbal remedies. He claimed this treatment would cure HIV, despite contradictory research.
With a population of just under 2 million Gambians, almost 50 percent of whom live below the poverty line, according to the CIA's World Factbook — and with an economy that is built on European tourism and international ecotourism — Gambia may be even more vulnerable than Uganda was to possible sanctions if the bill becomes law.