The United States on Monday said it was “deeply concerned” about a new law making homosexuality punishable by life in prison in Gambia, where gays already have endured years of intolerance and harassment.
The measure signed into law last month by President Yahya Jammeh targets people deemed guilty of “aggravated homosexuality,” who could face life in prison, as could people with HIV.
Before October, same-sex relationships in Gambia were already punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
“We are dismayed by President Jammeh’s decision to sign into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals and are deeply concerned about the reported arrests and detention of suspected LGBT individuals in The Gambia,” the State Department said.
“The United States strongly opposes any legislation that criminalizes consensual relations between adults,” the US statement said.
“We urge the government of The Gambia not to arrest or detain individuals solely on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens to which they are entitled under The Gambia’s international human rights commitments.”
Washington echoed denunciations of the law issued by rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
“The new law treats consensual, private sexual activity between adults of the same sex -– which should not be a crime –- in the same way as rape and incest,” said a statement by Amnesty.
Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, has repeatedly denounced homosexuality and once vowed to behead gays, although he later retracted the threat.
Last year, Jammeh told the UN 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 behavior,” he said.