HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
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Outside Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh is often the subject of satire. He recently claimed to have found a cure for Ebola. In 2007, he announced his home-grown herbal cure for AIDS. He also claims to cure hypertension, asthma, epilepsy and infertility. He conducts exorcisms in his living room, recorded by Gambia’s state-run TV station and then dutifully broadcast to the nation.
Naturally, Jammeh’s outlandish behaviour and penchant for self-promotion delights satirists. But while Jammeh may be a figure of fun from afar, at home his brutal rule is no laughing matter. Few dare speak out against him, as he rules a country with one of the worst human rights records in Africa.
Jammeh’s latest target is the LGBT community. In October he signed a new criminal code that carries punishment of up to life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality”, which is defined in such a way as to include “serial offenders” and people living with HIV who are deemed to be gay or lesbian. The new law has sparked a witch-hunt against LGBT people in Gambia, with at least 14 documented arrests. Some of those rounded up have been tortured. Detainees said they were told that if they did not “confess,” and also provide the names of other so-called offenders, a device would be forced into their anus or vagina to “test” their sexual orientation. Those who can flee have sought refuge in neighbouring Senegal.
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