Alagie Jammeh, who is a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, last September wrote “no one should be denied of their fundamental basic human rights because of their sexuality.” He told the Washington Blade earlier this month during a telephone interview that he decided to post the message to his Facebook page after becoming friends with a gay man.
Alagie Jammeh, 25, said members of his family in Gambia were “disappointed” in him over the post. He told the Blade they urged him to remove it from his Facebook page because they worried that he would lose the government scholarship he had received to study in the U.S.
“They were like ‘You know what the religion and the culture is in the Gambia. Why are you going to say those things?’” said Alagie Jammeh. “It was very unfortunate.”
Alagie Jammeh told the Blade he eventually lost his scholarship.
He said he had to live out of his car after his landlord last November evicted him because he was unable to pay his rent. Alagie Jammeh told the Blade he also had to sell his laptop and other belongings for food.
Alagie Jammeh said his mother has also left Gambia. He told the Blade that his uncle’s government has requested that he return to his homeland and publicly apologize for the post.
“I’m not going to do that,” said Alagie Jammeh.
Alagie Jammeh told the Blade there is an “80 percent chance that I will end up in prison” if he were to return to Gambia.
“I’m also scared they might kill me if I return to Gambia,” he added.
Yahya Jammeh threatened to slit gay men’s throats
Gambia is among the countries in which homosexuality remains illegal.
Yahya Jammeh last fall signed a law under which those who are convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” in the small West African country face life in prison. Advocates and U.S. officials have also repeatedly criticized the Gambian president over his anti-LGBT rhetoric, which includes a threat to slit the throats of gay men who live in his country.
Alagie Jammeh spoke with the Blade shortly after a Gambian court acquitted three men who had been charged under the country’s “aggravated homosexuality” law. Alieu Sarr, one of those who was released after spending nearly eight months in custody, on Monday told Fatou Camara, a Gambian journalist who was Yahya Jammeh’s press secretary before fleeing to the U.S. in 2013, that he was routinely tortured and beaten.
— Jeffrey Smith (@Smith_RFKennedy) August 17, 2015
State Department spokesperson John Kirby during his daily press briefing on Aug. 10 did not specifically answer the Blade’s question about Alagie Jammeh’s allegations. Kirby did, however, reiterate the State Department’s previous criticisms of the Gambian government’s LGBT rights record.
“I can’t speak to those reports,” Kirby told the Blade, responding to Alagie Jammeh’s allegations. “What I can speak to is our strong position as we’ve repeatedly made clear about the deep concerns about continued reports of human rights abuses in the Gambia. And of course our position on LGBTI rights we believe, as we’ve said before, gay rights are human rights. Nothing’s changed about our position.”Alagie Jammeh has launched a GoFundMe page to help him raise funds that will allow him to continue his education in the U.S. He has thus far raised more than $14,000.
Alagie Jammeh is currently living with a lesbian couple in California.
“They’ve given me a place to stay,” he said. “My government has not.”
Alagie Jammeh told the Blade that members of the First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara and officials at UC Santa Barbara continue to offer assistance.
George Foulsham, a spokesperson for UC Santa Barbara, told the Blade on Tuesday that university officials “are aware” of Alagie Jammeh’s case and are working with him “as we would with any student in a similar situation.” Foulsham declined to comment further, citing student privacy laws.
“The opportunity to graduate and achieve my goals is keeping me going,” wrote Alagie Jammeh on his GoFundMe page.
Government spokesperson: Alagie Jammeh is ‘lying’
Pierre Minteh of the Gambian Embassy in D.C. on Tuesday dismissed Alagie Jammeh’s allegations.
“He’s completely lying,” Minteh told the Blade during a telephone interview.
Minteh told the Blade the embassy has “given” Alagie Jammeh “the necessary assistance.” Minteh also noted that Yahya Jammeh — and not the Gambian government — gave him the scholarship to attend UC Santa Barbara.
“This has nothing to do with whatever comment he has made,” Minteh told the Blade. “Alagie is not telling the truth. He is just making these allegations to get the attention of those out there…it’s not true.”
Alagie Jammeh dismissed Minteh’s claims as government propaganda.
“For him to say I am doing this to get attention is totally false,” Alagie Jammeh told the Blade on Tuesday.
Alagie Jammeh insisted to the Blade that he has no regrets about his support of LGBT rights. He also continues to speak out on the issue, including in a July 19 Facebook post in which he wrote “homophobia is wrong.”
“Please do not forget who you are and where you are from,” wrote a Gambian in response to the aforementioned message, according to Alagie Jammeh. “Supporting gay rights is a Western thing and against God. When you die you are going to go to hell.”
Alagie Jammeh told the Blade that he “felt the same way” when he lived in Gambia. He said his attitudes towards homosexuality and LGBT rights changed once he moved to the U.S.
“Our nation is not going to move forward by discriminating against people or killing people or by putting people in jail because of their sexual orientation,” said Alagie Jammeh. “I’m going to take that back to Gambia and tell people you have to respect people, no matter who they are.”