The arrest, detention and torture of eight people since the beginning of the month as part of a crackdown on “homosexuality” by the Gambian authorities reveals the shocking scale of state-sponsored homophobia, Amnesty International said.
“These arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia. Intimidation, harassment, and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault”.
Amnesty International considers people who are arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.
Since 7 November, the country’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Presidential Guards have been carrying out a homophobic operation resulting in the arrests of five men, including a 17-year-old boy, and three women.
All those arrested were taken and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul, the capital, and were told they were under investigation for “homosexuality” but have not been formally charged. They were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force them to confess their so called “crimes” and to reveal information about other individuals perceived to be gay or lesbian.
As a means to obtain information the NIA have been using methods such as beatings, sensory deprivation and the threat of rape. The detainees were told that if they did not “confess,” a device would forced into their anus or vagina to “test” their sexual orientation.
“The use and threat of torture against those arrested is truly shocking, but sadly not surprising. Just weeks after Gambia refused UN human rights monitors access to its prisons, we have further evidence of the cruelty inflicted on victims of the security forces – this time on those simply perceived as being different”, said Steve Cockburn.
Although the three women were released on 13 November, they remain under investigation and the NIA has confiscated their identity cards and ordered them not to leave the country.
The four men and 17-year-old boy are still in incommunicado detention, without access to a lawyer, despite constitutional guarantees that require people to be charged within 72 hours of arrest.
“It’s not just regional and international human rights law that Gambia is flouting with this persecution, but its own constitution too,” said Steve Cockburn.
The NIA is reportedly collating a list of names for future arrests. Several other men and women managed to escape as they were tipped off by their relatives that the security forces were targeting them. A young woman who recently fled Gambia to Senegal told Amnesty International that several civilian security forces came to her family’s home on 12 November to ask about her whereabouts.
“They threatened to break in the doors. As they could not find me, they also threatened to arrest one of my relatives. They finally left the house promising to kill me if ever they caught me,” she told Amnesty International.
The Gambian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on people for their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity comes just months after a landmark ruling of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – which is coincidently based in Banjul. The resolution condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people by state and non-state actors.
This wave of homophobic arrests also comes a few months after the National Assembly of Gambia passed a homophobic Bill creating the charge of “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries a life sentence. It is unclear whether this Bill has received the required Presidential assent to come into force. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex is already a crime in Gambia, in violation of international human rights law.
The Gambian authorities also continue to make public statements attacking LGBTI rights. In October, President Jammeh described “homosexuality” as “satanic behaviour”, while in September an officer of the ruling party, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), stated in a newspaper interview that: “homosexuals should be killed because they are enemies of humanity”.