The Gambia is considering whether to repeal anti-gay legislation implemented by previous leader, Yahya Jammeh, the country's foreign secretary has hinted. Ousainou Darboe was quoted by local media as saying homosexuality was an "imaginary issue" in the West African nation and Jammeh, now in exile, had allegedly implemented the law to persecute people.
"Homosexuality was perhaps something Jammeh imagined in order to bamboozle the clerics that were surrounding him... He used gay as a propaganda tool in order for him to continue to repress people," Darboe said on Monday (15 May), according to SMBC News.
Homosexuals in Gambia faced up to 14 years in prison until 2014, when Jammeh signed a new law extending the term to life in jail. An amendment to the country's Criminal Code introduced the new crime of "aggravated homosexuality" for, among other categories, "repeat offenders" and suspected gays and lesbians living with HIV.
The move, criticised by rights groups and Western governments, prompted the EU to freeze aid to the country.
Darboe believes the law should be scrapped. "The aggravated homosexuality was a distraction and it should be taken out of the laws... You pass laws to deal with situations, not an imaginary problem," he said and added his party, the United Democratic Party, supported the repealing of the law.
Jammeh was known for being a staunch opponent of gay rights. The former head of state, who ruled Gambia for 22 years, compared homosexuals to "vermin" and claimed homosexuality is "anti-humanity."
The strongman went into exile in Equatorial Guinea earlier this year, following the peaceful resolution of a post-election crisis. UDP member Adama Barrow won presidential elections held in December last year, but Jammeh tried to cling on to power after his defeat.