At least 15 men have been arrested in Gambia under “suspicion of homosexuality,” reports say.
The men, all Gambians except one Senegalese, were arrested late Monday when police raided a bar in a popular tourist area. Officers had received a tip of people “publicly displaying or promoting homosexual activities,” a senior police officer speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.
“They will be charged accordingly after we have completed our investigations,” the police official said.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the men were arrested for “indecent practice between [men],” though at this stage no official word has been issued on the precise framing of the charges.
Under Gambia’s Article 144 of the Criminal Code, any same-sex sexual act is punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment though the full penalty is rarely invoked.
The hostile environment Gambia creates for its LGBT citizens has long been a concern for international rights groups.
This was compounded in 2008 when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, having repeatedly denounced homosexuality in the past, went so far as to vow to behead gay people. Jammeh, following international condemnation, later retracted this threat.
In February Jammeh then spoke out again, saying: “We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date. If you think it is human rights to destroy our culture, you are making a great mistake because if you are in the Gambia, you are in the wrong place then.”
The U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Human Rights Report noted the systemic discrimination LGBTs face in the country, saying that ”there is strong societal discrimination against LGBT individuals, but officially there are no laws that deny such individuals access to citizenship, employment, housing, education, or healthcare.”
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