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Rights Groups Fear for Gays in West Africa


Human rights groups say they fear for the safety of homosexuals in West Africa following the arrest of two Spanish men for allegedly making homosexual proposals to taxi drivers. The arrests come after Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh threatened to cut off the head of any homosexual found in The Gambia. Ricci Shryock has more from Dakar.

Human rights groups say Monday's arrest of two Spanish men in The Gambia for allegedly making homosexual advances is part of a continuing human rights problem in West Africa. Cary Alan Johnson, the Senior Africa Specialist for New-York based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission comments.

"We are equally concerned with local Gambians who, as you know, will be facing this kind of repression after the media spotlight is no longer on the Gambia," said Johnson.

There is no official gay and lesbian rights movement in The Gambia, says Johnson, who spoke from Cape Town, South Africa. His group is concerned about a growing culture of repression against gays in the region.

"Countries like Gambia and Ghana and Nigeria maintain and are even strengthening the laws that are in use to arrest and persecute gays and lesbian people," said Johnson.

Homosexuality is illegal in The Gambia, and people convicted of consensual homosexual acts can face up to 14 years in jail.

Linda Baumann, a Namibia-based spokesperson for the Pan Africa Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association, says President Jammeh's recent threat to behead homosexuals has created a climate of fear.

"As a president, he must realize that there is quite a number of people looking up to him, and once he makes a statement, people follow what he is saying," said Baumann. "And even the fact that he is talking about beheading, who on the grass-root level will not be able to do that if the president himself is threatening to such an extent?"

Johnson adds that with rising costs of living across the continent, there is an increase in African leaders who use the gay community as a scapegoat.

"We know that in countries that are undergoing economic or political stress, finding a group that is most marginalized to blame the ills of society on is a common strategy," said Johnson.

Officials at the Spanish Embassy in neighboring Dakar, which also handles The Gambia, would not comment.

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