Amnesty International on Tuesday said that the arrest, detention and torture of eight people since the beginning of the month as part of a crackdown on 'homosexuality' by the Gambian authorities have revealed the shocking scale of state-sponsored homophobia.
Mr. Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, in a statement said these arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity.
'This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia. Intimidation, harassment and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault,' he stated.
Mr. Cockburn said Amnesty International considered people who were arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience, adding that they should be released immediately and unconditionally.
He disclosed that, since 7 November, the country’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Presidential Guards had been carrying out a homophobic operation resulting in the arrest of five men, including a 17-year-old boy, and three women.
'All those arrested were taken and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul, the capital, and were told they were under investigation for 'homosexuality' but have not been formally charged.
'They were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force them to confess their so called 'crimes' and to reveal information about other individuals perceived to be gay or lesbian.
'As a means to obtain information the NIA has been using methods such as beatings, sensory deprivation and the threat of rape, while the detainees were told that if they did not 'confess', a device would forced into their anus or vagina to 'test' their sexual orientation,' he stated.
Mr. Cockburn also said the use and threat of torture against those arrested was shocking but not surprising.
'Just weeks after Gambia refused UN human rights monitors access to its prisons, we have further evidence of the cruelty inflicted on victims of the security forces, this time on those simply perceived as being different,' the Amnesty International official said.
Mr Cockburn said although the three women were released on 13 November, they remained under investigation and the NIA had confiscated their identity cards and ordered them not to leave the country.
The four men and 17-year-old boy were still in incommunicado detention, without access to a lawyer, despite constitutional guarantees that required people to be charged within 72 hours of arrest, he added.
Mr. Cockburn said: 'It is not just regional and international human rights law that Gambia is flouting with this persecution, but it's own constitution too.'