The U.S. State Department says it is both "dismayed" and "deeply concerned" by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's signing of a brutal new antigay law in his country.
With language suspiciously similar to a law that was in force in Uganda until it was overturned by a constitutional court in August on a technicality, Gambia's new law calls for life sentences for acts of "aggravated homosexuality."
"We are dismayed by President Jammeh's decision to sign into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals and are deeply concerned about the reported arrests and detention of suspected LGBT individuals in The Gambia," Jeff Rathke, the State Department's director of press relations, said in the statement.
The law defines "aggravated homosexuality" with a laundry list of antigay ideas about what it means to be LGBT. They are acts committed by "serial offenders" and people living with HIV or AIDS, as well as someone who has sex with a minor or a disabled person — or someone under the influence of drugs. The law equates pedophilia with homosexuality, prescribing lifelong prison terms for parents or guardians who have sex with same-sex dependents.
The Associated Press reports that Jammeh made promises on state-run television Saturday to push for the death penalty for those convicted of certain crimes. The Gambian president appeared to be conflating so-called "aggravated homosexuality" with child rape, baby dumping, and child abandonment — a strategy that could increase support for his notorious homophobia.
"The United States strongly opposes any legislation that criminalizes consensual relations between adults," continuted the State Department statement. "We urge the Government of The Gambia not to arrest or detain individuals solely on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens to which they are entitled under The Gambia’s international human rights commitments. We call on the Government of The Gambia to reverse the deteriorating respect for democracy and human rights."
What is Jammeh's record?
Jammeh is a notorious homophobe who last year 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."
Previously, he warned all LGBTs in Gambia to leave the country or face decapitation. Then, just last May, Jammeh said that if LGBT Gambians try to leave the country and report human rights abuses, "if I catch them I will kill them."
Human rights groups are calling for President Obama to act decisively against Gambia for enacting the new law. So far, no announcement about whether the White House is considering sanctions against Gambia as a means of pressuring Jammeh to rescind the new law has been forthcoming. Sanctions were seen as effective in pressuring Uganda to overturn its now-defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act. However, a new Ugandan law appears likely, as the previous one fell under a technicality.