WHAT’S THE STORY?
HE believes homosexuality is a threat to human existence, claims he can cure Aids and is accused of shocking human rights abuses in Gambia as he runs for re-election as president.
Reputedly one of the world’s most ruthless and eccentric leaders, Yahya Jammeh has ruled the country with an iron fist since taking power in a military coup in 1994.
Now, however, his people appear to be rising up against his repression, amid calls for the international community to impose sanctions to force the government to end the “climate of fear”.
A rights group has issued a plea to the EU and the US to crack down on Jammeh, following the arrest of 50 protestors and the death – allegedly through torture – of a prominent opposition activist.
The government has denied that Solo Sandeng, secretary of Gambia’s biggest opposition party, the United Democratic Party (UDP), was tortured.
After his death earlier this year, Jammeh said: “People die in custody or during interrogations, it’s really common. This time, there is only one dead and they want investigations? No one can tell me what to do in my country.”
Another opposition activist is also said to have died in custody in the run-up to the elections on December 1.
WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?
IN a hard-hitting, 43-page report, Human Rights Watch claims Jammeh has used the state media and state resources as well as brutal repression to ensure he stays in power.
“The Jammeh government has threatened, beaten, and tortured opposition party members for exercising their basic rights, all but extinguishing hopes for a fair election,” said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch.
“Unless this situation improves, Gambia’s international donors should impose targeted sanctions on senior officials implicated in abuses.”
According to Human Rights Watch, over the past 22 years President Jammeh and the Gambian security forces have used enforced disappearances, torture, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent and preserve his grip on power.
This year, Jammeh has repeatedly threatened opposition parties.
“Let me warn those evil vermin called opposition,” he said. “If you want to destabilise this country, I will bury you nine-feet deep.”
Human Rights Watch say his “inflammatory rhetoric” has encouraged the army and police to use excessive force against opposition activists.
The group claim that when one protester was granted bail after his arrest in May, a senior police officer told him: “You better be careful, as whatever you say, we will know it. People in jail are safe… You are outside, so you are in more danger, as we are watching you.”
WHAT DOES JAMMEH SAY?
BORN in 1965, Jammeh says he will stay as president for “a billion years” if it is the will of God. Commonly seen with his prayer beads, he portrays himself as a deeply religious Muslim who has been gifted miraculous powers such as the ability to cure infertility.
He claims homosexuality is anti-God and anti-humanity and has threatened to behead gay people.
In 2007, he angered health workers across the world by claiming he could cure Aids through the use of herbs, later adding that homosexuals would doom the planet.
In 2014, Jammeh threatened to “kill” those who used the persecution of LGBTQ people in Gambia as a reason for seeking asylum in other countries. That same year, in a speech given to celebrate the 49th anniversary of independence from the UK, he said: “We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”
He has claimed that homosexuality is “more deadly than all natural disasters put together” and that homosexuals “destroy culture”.
“We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date,” he said. “If you think it is human rights to destroy our culture, you are making a great mistake because, if you are in the Gambia, you are in the wrong place then.”
ANY OTHER ACCUSATIONS?
JAMMEH has also been accused of fomenting ethnic tension by spouting genocidal remarks about the Mandinka people who make up around 40 per cent of the country’s 1.8 million people.
He caused outrage at the UN and among human rights groups when he said the Mandinka were “enemies and foreigners” and added that he would relocate “the Mandinkas where even a fly can’t see them”.
Nearly half of the Gambia’s population still live in poverty and it is claimed that the president has put paid to widespread opposition by raising the costs to register a political party to just over £8,000.
He has also come under fire for trying to pull out of the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it is biased against African countries and fails to examine war crimes committed by the West.
Critics claim his move is to avoid prosecution for human rights offences.
“President Jammeh has followed his own set of rules for more than over two decades, using any opportunity to entrench his abusive rule and evade accountability for his innumerable crimes,” said Jeffrey Smith, founding director of NGO Vanguard Africa. “It is very concerning that this comes weeks before a presidential election, the lead-up of which has been fraught with violence against the opposition, killings and highly incendiary rhetoric espoused by Jammeh himself,”
Amnesty International has also called for Jammeh to clean up his act or face expulsion by Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States.