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U.S. Suspends Aid as Antigay Witch Hunt Snares 3 More in Gambia

U.S. Suspends Aid as Antigay Witch Hunt Snares 3 More in Gambia


Gambia's notoriously homophobic head of state who said in May, 'I will kill them,' has LGBT Gambians on the run. Now the U.S. has imposed sanctions against Gambia.


The Agence de Presse Africaine is reporting that security forces in Gambia have arrested three people on suspicion that they committed the "crime" of homosexuality. And now the Obama Administration has responded with sanctions against the west African country.

"Gambian security forces from both the police and the National Intelligence Agency are continuing their crackdown on suspected homosexuals in the greater Banjul metropolis, especially in the Tourism Development Area," APA reported Tuesday.

The Human Rights Campaign commended the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama for suspending Gambia's status as a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opporutnities Act in response to the country's crackdown on LGBT people. It was not immediately clear how much funding Gambia will lose as a result of its suspension from the fund, which takes effect January 15 of next year.

"This decision is an important first step in sending a clear signal to President Yayha Jammeh and his associates about their human rights record, and they cannot be allowed to trample on the rights of LGBT Gambians," said Jean Freedberg, deputy drector of HRC Global. "The United States government should not move forward with business as usual with The Gambia when LGBT people are harassed, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed because of who they are."

Names, ages, and genders of those arrested Sunday were not immediately available, but a photograph published along with the APA article appeared to show three adults detained in the west African nation. The arrested people's faces were obscured in the image, which showed the three sitting at a table in an undisclosed location.

A Gambian newspaper, The Daily Observer, reported the arrests along with quotes from a National Intelligence Agency official that were rife with homophobic slurs and thinly veiled assertions that wealthy foreigners are hooking Gambian children on homosexuality through financial support.

"We arrested some and others are beyond the territory, but that would not stop us from operations," the newspaper quoted the official, whose name was not published, as saying. That official reportedly continued:

"During the investigations, suspects confessed that they were truly engaged in the act of homosexuality. ... They further revealed that most them started homosexual act[s] between the ages of nine and ten. The investigation also revealed that the suspects were introduced to the homosexual act by friends, most of whom are non-Gambians. The suspects said they depended on them for financial support. The suspects were engaged in the activities to the point where they became addicted and could no longer stop."

Life Sentences for "Aggravated Homosexuality"
News of the latest arrests comes after earlier reports that eight people, including one teenage boy, were arrested in November on similar charges. Those arrests took place before an official announcement was made that Gambia's new antihomosexuality law was in force; President Yahya Jammeh secretly enacted it in October. The new law provides lifelong prison sentences for "aggravated homosexuality."

Gambian law defines "aggravated homosexuality" as any same-sex sexual contact 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 was already illegal for both men and women and punishable by 14 years in prison in Gambia before the nation adopted the harsher, draconian law that is a near-carbon-copy of Uganda's now-overturned Anti-Homosexuality Act.

BuzzFeed is reporting that the number of Gambians arrested for homosexuality since the beginning of November may be as high as 13.

LGBT Gambians Escape to Senegal
"If ever they find us, they're going to kill us," a 20-year-old Gambian lesbian told BuzzFeed during a recent phone interview she gave from Senegal after escaping there, amid the NIA raids that ensnared the three people now in custody in Gambia. Her comments are made all the more chilling in light of a promise made by the west African nation's homophobic president back in May.

"If I catch them, I will kill them," President Jammeh declared of LGBT Gambians seeking asylum elsewhere during a May speech in a town outside of the capital of Banjul.

Gambia Torturing "Gay" Suspects with Rectal Probes?
BuzzFeed reports that sources say a 17-year-old boy arrested November 7 may have been tortured into identifying a 20-year-old lesbian, who is being called "Theresa" in order to protect her identity. One source told BuzzFeed that the NIA is now using a device "that they put in the gays' anus to see if you are gay or not."

Such unscientific, invasive "tests" are frequently used by antigay authority figures in an effort to "prove" that a person is gay. Although the examinations have been condemned by most major human rights organizations and the United Nations as not only invasive but ineffective, those arrested on suspicion of homosexuality are still regularly subjected to such humiliating treatment in nations where being LGBT is criminalized. And even when the "results" come back "negative," those arrested are sometimes still prosecuted for being gay -- as was the case with several men arrested earlier this year in Egypt after a video went viral that claimed to show the nation's first same-sex wedding on board a riverboat on the Nile. In November the men accused of being in the video were sentenced to three years in prison under a vague nationwide prohibition on "debauchery."

Let the Witch Hunt Begin
Unfortunately, the latest arrests may be just the beginning of what appears to be an antigay witch hunt being waged by Gambian authorities. The NIA official quoted by The Daily Observer appears to have launched an unabashed effort to get Gambians to accuse other Gambians of homosexuality.

"Landlords, bar, restaurants, and hotels owners [sic], amongst others, should also take responsibility to monitor extra activities that happen in their environment," he told the newspaper. "The act is illegal and we will leave no stone unturned to ensuring that it is not practiced in The Gambia. Whoever is caught will face prosecution."

The intelligence officer used his interview with the newspaper to urge members of the public to "be vigilant" and to report "inhuman" and "un-Gambian" homosexual activities to authorities.

A 24-year-old gay man, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, told BuzzFeed, "They arrested all my friends, and people don't know where they are. They've been hunting all of the gays and lesbians."

Gambia Ill-Prepared for Sanctions
Economists and outside analysts agree: Gambia is in no position to forfeit financial aid from foreign donors at this time.

"Incoherent macroeconomic policies have caused major disruptions to the Gambian foreign exchange market and created fiscal imbalances, increasing the country's vulnerability to external shocks," reads a portion on the 2014 edition of the African Economic Outlook, a key report used by the African Development Bank to shape its lending policy toward nations on the continent, including Gambia.

Similarly, analysts at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency doubt Gambia can afford to lose foreign aid like that provided by the African Growth and Opportunity Fund.

"Economic progress depends on sustained bilateral and multilateral aid, on responsible government economic management, and on continued technical assistance from multilateral and bilateral donors," reads an excerpt of the most recent analysis of Gambia's economy at the CIA's World Fact Book.

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