Gambia’s parliament passes tough law against gays

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Gambia's National Assembly has passed a bill imposing life imprisonment for some homosexual acts, officials said, worsening the climate for sexual minorities in a country with one of Africa's most vocal anti-gay leaders.

The bill amending the criminal code was passed last month and brings life sentences for "aggravated homosexuality", minority leader Samba Jallow said on Monday. That is a charge levelled at repeat offenders and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Jallow said that while his National Reconciliation Party did not condone homosexuality, he voted against the bill along with one other lawmaker. "In our view, [homosexuals] did not commit a crime worthy of life imprisonment or any treasonable offence," he said.

Homosexual acts were already punishable by up to 14 years in prison under a Gambian law that was amended in 2005 to apply also to women.

The bill now awaits approval by President Yahya Jammeh, an autocratic ruler who in 2008 instructed gays and lesbians to leave the country or risk having their heads cut off.

A draft contains language identical to a controversial anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda earlier this year.

The new bill could make life even worse for Gambia's gays, said Francois Patuel, West Africa campaigner for Amnesty International. "It only adds to the discrimination and to the climate of fear that gays and lesbians ... are living under," Patuel said.

SOURCE: South China Morning Post, September 11th 2014: