A court in Gambia has dropped charges against 18 men who had been arrested in April and alleged with homosexuality.
The public prosecutor informed the court on Wednesday (1 August) that there was insufficient evidence to continue with the case.
If the men had been convicted of homosexuality they would have violated the country’s strict article 144 of the Gambian criminal code, which stipulates a punishment of up to 14 years imprisonment.
Omar Kuddus, UK based LGBT rights advocate managed to speak with the men who faced prosecution who told him they were ‘very happy’ that they are now ‘free from the case’.
However since their story became public knowledge the men have now say they became social outcasts and may be in danger of homophobia and persecution.
The public prosecutor’s case was based on discredited evidence.
Two police officers previously testified (16 July) how one that when they had raided the Duplex Night Club they had seen the defedants ‘wearing female clothes with hand bags on them walking like ladies’ adding that these dresses were ‘tight at the chest and wide at the bottom’.
These allegations were denied by all the defendants who stated no one there wore drag and that they were simply acquitances who were enjoying a night out in the club, located in the resort town of Kololi.
The police officer obtained 43 pictures from digital cameras at the venue as central ‘evidence’ supporting their claims.
However after examination most of the pictures were taken by the club owner’s own camera at different occasions and could not possibly have been attributed to the accused.
This led to the case being dismissed.
While feeling relieved that the ‘trial has ended’ the men say they have ‘been marked out’ and that ‘life in Gambia shall never be the same’ after been outed publicly by having had their photographs published along with their names.
This has led to retribution from the general public and from some of their families who feel that they have dishonoured them.
Some of the men have been called 'gorr jigeen' which is a derogative term for homosexuals in Gambia, akin to 'perverts' or 'faggots' and they have also been referred to as 'prostitutes'.
In fact one of the men reported that his family are trying to force him to get married, in an attempt to restore ‘family honour’.
The US Department of State's 2010 Human Rights Report found that ‘there is strong societal discrimination against LGBT individuals’ in Gambia. The report also found that there were no known LGBT organizations in the country, and that ‘many citizens shunned lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals’.
Gambia is a predominantly Muslim country and is ruled by the military headed by president Yahya Jammeh who cultivates an image of being a devout Muslim.
Jammeh slammed in February 2012 the linking of US foreign aid to progress on LGBT rights saying that: ‘We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date.’
He also stated that homosexuality originates from ‘alien cultures’ which will fail to ‘destroy our culture’,
Jammeh, previously vowed in May 2008 to legislate ‘stricter laws than Iran’ on homosexuality and said he would ‘cut off the head’ of any gay person found in Gambia.
‘The Gambia is a country of believers... sinful and immoral practices [such] as homosexuality will not be tolerated in this country,’ he was quoted as saying by the BBC.
After mounting international criticism he later retracted his statements and said homosexuals should be expelled from the country.