Life in prison for being in loving gay relationships compared to 5-15 years for raping students
By Melanie Nathan, September 18, 2013.
Reuters reports from Sierra Leone that Deputy Education Minister Mamoud Tarawali has been charged with raping a university student, according to police. Sierra Leone is a country that criminalizes loving gay relationships.
The inspector general of police Francis Munu:
“He is facing counts of rape, wounding, wounding with intent and assault. He has been denied bail and is currently in Pademba road prison, ” according to Reuters, noting that Tarawali was sacked last week after he was accused of rape. He was in court on Monday to hear the charges read out and denied the accusations, police said.
Police said a complaint was filed by a 24-year-old student at the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown who said she was raped by Tarawali in a private residence.
Sierra Leone is recovering from years of war, during which sexual violence committed by fighters against women and girls was widespread.
(Reporting by Nina de Vries and Christo Johnson; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Janet Lawrence via Reuters)
While unrelated to this case, this is an opportunity to note that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Sierra Leone face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Male same-sex sexual activity (whether in public or private) is illegal in Sierra Leone and carries a possible penalty of life imprisonment (with hard labor), although this law is seldom enforced. Female same sex sexual activity is legal.
Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, and imprisonment for life is possible. Female same sex sexual activity is legal.
“Sodomy and bestiality: Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable….. to be kept in penal servitude for life.”
The Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission does not work on LGBT rights because, according to its communications director in 2011, “the law of Sierra Leone does not give the Commission mandate to advocate and support LGBT human rights”.
According to the U.S. Department of State, “A single male may not adopt a child unless there are exceptional circumstances or the child is a son of the prospective adoptive father. Only married couples may adopt jointly.”
Beyond the criminal prohibitions, social attitudes and mores tend to be hostile to homosexuality and cross-dressing on religious grounds, with most citizens affiliating with a Christian or Muslim sect that subscribes to traditional gender roles and abstaining from sexual activity outside of a traditional marriage.
According to a report filed by the U.S. embassy in Sierra Leone in 2011,
Many Sierra Leoneans believe that homosexuality is practiced exclusively by, or through inducements from, foreigners — it is assumed that homosexuals are either copying Western practices, or motivated by economics. A number of Sierra Leoneans, even those with considerable exposure to Western culture, said that homosexuality does not exist locally, and any cases were due directly to Western influence. … The few Sierra Leoneans who admitted knowing someone they believed to be homosexual said that in no case would anyone openly admit it, and if they did, they would be shunned by their families and friends and possibly threatened by community members. … While societal stigmas keep homosexuality in the closet, there are no “witch hunts” demanding tougher legislation or enforcement of the 1861 law, either, and this in a country where communities do have actual witch hunts.
Often judgment is passed on gay people who simply wish to live in peaceful loving relationships, which ought not to be defined purely by sex. Yet such relationships are criminalized. The real criminals are those who rape and yet some are not subjected to life in prison, even under newer legislation passed at a time when rape is on the increase. However gay people are criminalized under old draconian statues which doles out life in prison.
While gay people can receive life in prison under this old statute, with the latter yet to be revised or repealed, a recent 2012 Rape law was passed which, while hailed as a breakthrough in sentencing when compared to the anti-gay laws, barely carry viable sentences in a country where rape by straight men has been on the increase:
Sierra Leone lawmakers passed new legislation in August 2012. The sexual offences law introduced what some Sierra Leone described as “stiff minimum sentences for offenders” and also hailed the legislation “as a victory in a nation where sexual abuse is rife.”
Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs Stephen Gaojia said the new bill was “a victory for Sierra Leoneans as it protects women, children and the disabled against sexual abuse”. Yet these sentences, compared to the gay sentences is hardly stiff, allthough hailed as a victory against rapists because the minimum was raised from 2 years to between 5-15 years.
“It protects school children especially the girl child from abuse by teachers, pastors, imams, traditional healers and others and prohibits forced sex in marital relationships,” the minister told a radio station. ” The bill signals a big day in the lives of Sierra Leoneans as it took parliament two years to pass it into law as it had to go through various committee stages,” said Gaojia.
He also said that government would embark on a mass awareness program. The latter did not seem to impact a member of the Government in this instance and one wonders if it has had any impact at all on straight men, who seem to often act with impunity when it comes to the reality of the lives of those in Sierra Leone.
More on rape in Sierra Leone:
In 2009, to be precise on Monday, February 9, I joined voices in the West African state of Sierra Leone to damn incidents of rape following the death of a ten-year-old girl in the hands of her step-father at Hamilton, one of the outskirt towns of the capital, Freetown (http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/spip.php?article3691) with a view that such public outcry would have sent signals that rape is a crime not only within the laws of the country, but internationally as well.
However, it appears four years later, the despicable incidents of rape are on the increase with hardly a day passes by with one radio station or another reporting that innocent and unsuspecting children from ages two and above are victims of rape. http://africayoungvoices.com/2013/07/a-national-call-to-address-alarming-increase-of-rape-in-sierra-leone/