Gambian president Yahya Jammeh led an antigay demonstration through the streets of the nation's capital, Banjul on Tuesday, allegedly attended by thousands rallying in support of recently signed legislation that imposes lifetime prison sentences on many LGBT people, reports Pink News.
There were no reports that the president spoke at the event. However, the signs, speeches, and quotes reported by local media appeared tailored to support Jammeh's recent enactment of a draconian "Anti-Homosexuality Act," which is nearly identical to legislation passed — then overturned on a technicality — in Uganda earlier this year.
Gambia's new law requires lifelong prison sentences for the so-called crime of "aggravated homosexuality," defined as 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 also equates pedophilia with homosexuality, ordering life in prison for parents or guardians who have sex with same-sex dependents.
Placards displayed at Tuesday's protests bore slogans such as "Homosexuality is Inhuman; Even cows don’t do it!” and “Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam.”
The demonstration was organized as a platform to draw attention to a petition denouncing "outside forces — development partners — who advocate for homosexuality and lesbianism; vices forbidden by the laws of The Gambia," as All Africa, a pan-African news aggregation website described it. Citing All Africa as its source, Pink News reports that the event was attended by thousands. Gambian officials have stood by the law, even in the face of millions of dollars in aid cuts from international partners that help support the country's economy and political regime.
Meandering Message Aims to Justify "Jail-the-Gays" Law
Saihou Sanyang, Gambia's Minister of Lands and Regional Government, delivered a meandering speech about the threat of what he referred to as "homosexualism," addressing the crowd gathered at Banjul's July 22nd Square (named for the date in 1994 when Jammeh seized power in a military coup).
Sanyang also read from an equally loquacious petition allegedly from the protesters in support of the antigay law, saying:
"[I]t goes without saying that our intolerance with the unnatural and abominable malpractices of homosexuality and lesbianism on the one hand, and the other, our government's position, are not negotiable. It is on the basis of such religious, social, moral, and ethical upbringing built on high moral grounds that we stand by our government's position to zero tolerance to either homosexuality or lesbianism or both. There shall not be any turning point and that the people are ready for eventuals in good defense of the people and country's independence."
The secretary's speech and the petition he read were both addressed specifically to President Jammeh, seeming to demonstrate the event was designed to affirm Jammeh's brutal crackdown on LGBT Gambians.
Jammeh is a notorious homophobe who has repeatedly used the floor of the United Nations General Assembly to spout antigay dogma. In his most recent U.N. address, he called LGBT people "vermin" and compared them to mosquitos, and the year before, Jammeh classified same-sex attraction as one of the three "biggest threats to human existence." In May, Jammeh said that if LGBT Gambians tried to leave the country and report human rights abuses, "if I catch them I will kill them."
Last month, Gambian police arrested five men, a 17-year-old boy, and three women, subjecting them to torture and demanding they reveal the names of others "guilty" of homosexuality.
Jammeh Defies Sanctions Threats
Human rights groups and Western governments are promising sanctions against the Jammeh government unless Gambia nullifies its new "jail-the-gays" law and treats LGBT people in the country in a manner consistent with basic human rights standards.
Despite hints that the U.S. will impose sanctions, along with more overt threats from European Union leaders Gambia's homophobia will cost the country foreign aid dollars, the Jammeh government has remained defiant, staunchly supporting the draconian antigay law.
"The Gambia will never be a party to the so-called Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union as it is designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent," said Gambia's foreign minister, Bala Garba Jahumpa, according to Reuters. "We will [sic] rather die then be colonized twice."