LIBREVILLE | The decriminalisation of homosexuality adopted Monday in Gabon is a relief for the very small homosexual community in this central African country wracked by a year in the illegality, but especially three weeks of heated debate, often violent, which continues to divide the Gabonese people.
“This is good news, we will finally be able to breathe,” loose Perfect junior Magnaga, head of Health + pro humanitus, one of the few associations that defend the rights of sexual minorities in Gabon.
The parliamentary gabonese have to be definitively adopted on Monday night the decriminalisation of homosexuality, an amendment to the criminal Code initiated by the government which has provoked the ire of a part of the public opinion.
In July 2019, the Senate had voted its penalty: to have sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex had become a “corrupting morals” is a punishable of 6 months in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs (11 500 $).
If the law has never been enforced, “for a year, we were more vulnerable to violence because we no longer had the right on our side”, demonstrates, in an interview with the AFP, Mr. Magnaga, psychosexologue of profession.
In normal times, “it is already difficult for a homosexual here to go to lodge a complaint when he is assaulted verbally or physically, the penalty had made it impossible,” he adds.
“The vote of the parliamentarians is a small victory for us, but it is not a matter of rejoice for both, we prefer to remain discreet”, says he.
Mr. Magnaga says that the community really wants that Gabon turns the page of this political sequence “challenging”. Many gay people have testified to having lived through a period that is psychologically very difficult.
For the past three weeks, in fact, the question of the decriminalisation of homosexuality was on everyone’s lips, in the street, the press and the social networks. And with it, a lot of homophobic comments.
Not a day goes by without a press article appears on the subject, some ranging up to equate homosexuality to “pedophilia” or “zoophilia”.
Not a day not more, without that of the leaders of the catholic Church or opposition is expressed in forums to condemn this sexual practice, often in terms which are very violent. Or even an hour without messages inciting hatred of homosexuals to be published on social networks.
“In the taxi, the neighborhood, television, the house, the remarks homophobes were everywhere,” adds Mr. Magnaga. The psychologist shows a video, filmed three days ago, on the great market of Libreville, according to him, where we see a young man accused of being homosexual chased by a group of, insulted, and escaping narrowly beaten thanks to the intervention of another man.
Monday morning, just before the vote, the titles of the written press reflected this tense atmosphere: “The nation of gabon crack dangerously”, “the decriminalisation of homosexuality is wrong”, could be read in the booths.
Among the opponents to the decriminalization, many are those who assert that the vote of the parliamentarians is far from reflecting the opinion of the majority of the Gabonese population. That the government has forced the hand of parliamentarians.
The image of the opponent Paul-Marie Gondjout, who, in an open letter to the head of the government, wrote: the decriminalisation “does not have a large membership”, blaming “a power that chooses clearly, and against the interests of his people, to serve the lobbies and manners foreign to our habits and customs”.
Of about close to those of the archbishop of Libreville Jean-Patrick Iba-Ba, on the same day, said in a press release that the “vote was in contradiction” with the opinion “of the majority of the Gabonese people”. And to accuse “certain international organizations” to “to condition their aid to the acceptance of the modes of behaviour foreign to our customs”.
Homosexuality is widely criminalized in sub-saharan Africa, where more than half of the countries prohibit or to punish her, sometimes of the death penalty. Gabon did, however, never prohibited homosexuality before last year, his legislation did not even mention.
Monday night, the Un resident coordinator in Gabon, Dr Stephen Jackson, hailed the vote of the parliamentarians, “consistent with the promise constitution of Gabon, according to which +every citizen has the right to free development of his personality+”. The UN representative commended Gabon, “a proud Nation, independent and sovereign”.