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Fears for tourists in Gambia as two men held on “gay” charges

Tony Grew June 3, 2008

Two Spanish men have been taken into custody by police in the Gambia after being accused of trying to solicit sex from male taxi drivers.

The EU nationals were arrested on Friday after complaints from the drivers and remain in prison. A police spokesman said they were “helping in the investigation.”

Last month the President of Gambia said gay men and lesbians must leave the country within 24 hours or face “serious consequences.”

The Daily Observer reported that the President had issued:

“An ultimatum to homosexuals, drug dealers, thieves and other criminals, to leave The Gambia or face serious consequences if caught.

“The President equally warned all those who harbour such individuals to kick them out of their compounds, noting that a mass patrol will be conducted on the instructions of the IGP and the director of the Gambia Immigration Department to weed bad elements in society.

“Any hotel, lodge or motel that lodges this kind of individuals will be closed down, because this act is unlawful.” he said.

“We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country.”

The Dutch government has summoned the representative of Gambia in the Netherlands to come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an explanation of the President’s comments.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised gay citizens not to disclose their sexual orientation if they visit the Gambia.

Gambia, a mostly Muslim country of 1.7 million people, punishes homosexual acts, even in private, with up to seven years in prison.

A former British colony, the country has been ruled by President Jammeh since a bloodless coup in 1994.

Last year he horrified scientists by announcing that he had developed a “miracle cure” for HIV/AIDS.

Hundreds of Gambians lined up to be “cured” by President Jammeh, who treats his patients by rubbing a mysterious herbal paste into their ribcages and then instructing them to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas.

The therapy is administered repeatedly over several weeks.

According to Mr Jammeh, AIDS sufferers are cured within “three to thirty days.”

The President announced his alleged cure in January to a gathering of perplexed foreign diplomats.

Government radio and TV addresses publicised the treatment, which Jammeh provides for free.

It has the backing of the Gambian Health Ministry.

Mr Jammeh refuses to disclose the ingredients of his herbal concoction, saying only that the treatment uses seven plants – “three of which are not from Gambia”.

His official website claims that patients have experienced a “marked improvement” in their health as a result of the treatment and scoffs at critics who dispute its efficacy.

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