The appearance of an LGBT activist on radio in Sierra Leone has led to a nasty, threatening, homophobic backlash.
On Tuesday November 8, Sierra Leone gay activist George Freeman appeared on Radio Democracy on “Good Morning Sierra Leone.” He talked about the Nigeria anti-same-sex marriage bill and the work of local advocates for LGBT rights and equal access to healthcare facilities in relation to HIV and AIDS services.
Henry Sheku, Communication Officer of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL), also appeared. Like his counterpart in neighboring Ghana, Sheku said:
“The Commission is not working on LGBTI human rights, because the law of Sierra Leone does not give the Commission mandate to advocate and support LGBTI human rights.”
The show received a number of negative text messages, including:
“Homosexuality is a taboo in the African society, anyone practicing or advocating for LGBTI rights must be publicly stoned to death.”
“You should not have granted this gay man an interview, what a shame! This organization must be banned and not allowed to operate in Sierra Leonean society.”
But some were positive, such as “people are allow to practice their sexuality as it is nobody’s business.”
But after the show, three of Freeman’s activist colleagues were kicked out of their homes and suffered harassment and homophobic statements by their family members. Hate calls also followed along with harassment and threats.
“At the moment, we are currently staying at the office behind closed doors with no moral and financial support from other organizations, friends and family members. This is what happens to LGBTI activists and people when they come out of the closet and express their opinion on LGBTI rights in Sierra Leone.”
Sierra Leone activists are calling on the government and especially the ‘Human Rights’ Commission to be reminded that self expression, freedom of association, dignity and safety, peaceful gathering and demonstration are all rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all Form of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and all other international human rights instruments which the government of Sierra Leone is signed up to.
It is requesting foundations, donors, Embassies, Aid Agencies and international organizations to send statements of solidarity and to ask the Sierra Leone government to respect the human rights of LGBTI people.
Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Sierra Leone with punishment including the possibility of life imprisonment.
According to the US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report, the law is not enforced “due to the secrecy surrounding homosexual conduct and the tendency for communities to discriminate against individuals rather than to enforce legal codes.”
LGBT groups “had to remain underground and hidden for fear of discrimination or violence against their members.”
“There were unofficial reports of beatings by police and others, particularly targeting men dressed as women, but formal complaints were not filed due to fear of reprisal. Lesbian girls and women were also victims of ‘planned rapes’ that were initiated by family members in an effort to change their sexual orientation.”
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Picture by George Freeman of appearance on Good Morning Sierra Leone