DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The U.S. State Department on Monday condemned the decision by Gambia's president to approve a law imposing life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.
In a statement, Director of Press Relations Jeff Rathke said the State Department was also concerned about reports of recent arrests targeting at least four men, a 17-year-old boy and nine women accused of committing homosexual acts.
The suspects are the first to be arrested since the new law went into effect Oct. 9, the day President Yahya Jammeh signed it. Amnesty International last week accused Gambian security forces of resorting to beatings and the threat of rape and other abuses if they did not confess.
Gambian officials have declined to comment on the new law or the arrests.
"We are dismayed by President Jammeh's decision to sign into law legislation that further restricts the rights of L.G.B.T. individuals and are deeply concerned about the reported arrests and detention of suspected L.G.B.T. individuals in The Gambia," Rathke said, using an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Homosexual acts were already punishable by up to 14 years in prison before Gambian lawmakers passed a bill in August punishing "aggravated homosexuality" with life in prison. The term, borrowed from a Ugandan law signed earlier this year that drew widespread condemnation before it was overturned on procedural grounds, targets "serial offenders" and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Suspects can also be charged with aggravated homosexuality for engaging in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or who has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is "in authority over" him or her.
Jammeh, one of Africa's most vocal anti-gay leaders, has also been criticized for other rights abuses, including allowing the execution of nine people by firing squad in 2012.
In remarks aired on state television Sunday night, Jammeh said he would push for a law imposing capital punishment for child rapists and people convicted of "baby dumping," or abandoning their children.
"And I will implement the law to the letter," he said.