Gambia urged to drop life sentences for gays
11 September 2014, 12:16
Dakar - Rights campaigners called on Wednesday for Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to reject proposals by lawmakers to introduce a punishment of life in prison for "aggravated homosexuality".
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a joint statement that a bill passed by parliament on 25 August could be used to target "repeat offenders" and people living with HIV.
"President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty's deputy regional director for west and central Africa.
"Gambia's national assembly and the president should not endorse state-sponsored homophobia."
Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, brooks no dissent in a country often blasted by rights bodies for abuses and homophobia.
He has repeatedly denounced homosexuality and once vowed to behead gays, although he later retracted the threat.
Also read: Gambia's leader calls gays 'vermin'
Last year, Jammeh told the United Nations General Assembly that "those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence".
"It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behaviour," he said.
Under current law, same-sex relationships are already punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Gambia.
In 2012, 15 men were arrested in a popular bar and charged with "indecent practices in a public place" - a euphemism for homosexual acts.
The president has two weeks to sign the proposals into law or return them for further review.