Gays in Mali are hunted and humiliated online (1/2)

People in Mali have started using Facebook, Youtube and WhatsApp to post photos meant to shame and identify gay men.
People in Mali have started using Facebook, Youtube and WhatsApp to post photos meant to shame and identify gay men.

In recent months, several social media groups and web pages in Mali have gained popularity engaging in what they call “the hunt for homosexuals”, posting photos meant to identify and humiliate gay people. The posts also incite violence, sharing homemade videos calling on their followers to kill or assault people suspected of being gay.

A proliferation of such web pages and groups – often using the acronym LCHM (for "Lutte contre l’homosexualité au Mali" or “Fight Against Homosexuality in Mali”) – has appeared on Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp. These pages share photos will captions like "Look everyone, it’s a homo!” or “This is a homo from [the region of] Kaye." Often, the man in the photo is identified by name and sometimes even digitally tagged.

Example of a Facebook post identifying people suspected of being gay along with their full names and supposed localisations in a Facebook group dedicated to denouncing people engaging in same-sex relations.

It is unclear when this practice first took off in Mali, but during the summer of 2017 these web posts launched their witch hunt with new fervour. Mali doesn’t have any laws penalising sexual relations between members of the same sex, but it also doesn’t have any laws aimed at protecting LGBTQI people from being harassed or targeted because of their sexual orientation.

In this photo, a poster on one of these LCHM pages based in Commune 3 in Bamako claims that this supposedly homosexual man is based in Bolibana, without offering any proof.

The administrators of these pages post a wide range of content – most often, photos showing men dressed as women (that look as if they have stolen them from someone’s social media account) as well as recordings and videos purporting to show sexual relations between two men. Comments, most often in Bambara (one of the most common languages in Mali), encourage followers to hunt down and punish these men.

These pages are also fond of sharing grisly videos showing supposedly gay men being beaten up or publicly humiliated. The people who publish these videos often have no proof of the sexual orientation of a victim. Some of these videos get several thousand views.

These YouTube or Facebook accounts also share shaming videos, where the person filming catches two men in the act or when a man accused of being gay is forced to undress in front of the camera.

From hate speech to denial 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke with the administrators of two different anti-gay web pages. The first, an administrator for the page LCHM Chico 223, claims to live near Bamako although he provided a French telephone number. He says he wants to "end homosexuality in Mali”, even explaining how he “identifies homosexuals”.

I work with trustworthy sources who relay information about the gay people living in their neighbourhoods. We infiltrate their social media networks to get photos of them, sometimes from their private lives. First, I call them to tell them that I know their sexual orientation. If they admit to it, I explain to them that they shouldn’t be doing that and try to get them back on the right path. If they deny it, I share their photos publicly so everyone will know they are a homo. Even if a lot of people criticise me and my page has been reported on numerous occasions, I will keep sharing photos of homosexuals to end the practice in my country because it’s not in our culture.

The second administrator who spoke with our team denied advocating violence. He says he is a Malian who divides his time between the United States and Canada. He admitted that he has Facebook pages dedicated to “the fight against homosexuality in Mali” but denied ever calling on people to commit hate crimes – even though the videos on his page contain clear calls to take action against gay people in the local Bambara language.

"We’re not there to call for violence or to kill or assault anyone. That’s not how we’ll solve the problem. Our aim is to fight for the government to make this practice illegal, as they did in Uganda,” he told the FRANCE 24 Observers [Editor’s note: Uganda has some of the toughest anti-gay laws in the world, including laws against "promoting" homosexuality.]  

Facebook pages 'from another era'

The Facebook pages don’t just target everyday people – they also frequently claim that local celebrities are gay in an attempt to tarnish their reputations.

Singer Ladji Lagaré Kanté was targeted when the Facebook page LCHM Chico 223 shared a video purporting to show Kanté having sex with another man.

Screengrab of a video posted on the LCHM Chico 223 web page that purported to show Malian artist Ladji Kanté having sex with a man.

In response, Kanté made a series of videos denying the claims – he even went as far as swearing on the Koran that he isn’t gay.

The activity on these web pages has trailed off a bit in the past few weeks. Numerous influential social media pages in Mali, including Tribunal des Stars and Mali Jolies Dew, took to Facebook to denounce and ridicule the anti-gay web pages, saying that they were “from another era” and needed to catch up with the times.   

The LCHM Chico 223 web page was unavailable for several weeks before reappearing on September 13. When it reappeared, most of the videos or photos that overtly called for hate crimes to be committed had been deleted. Some, however, remained.

In this video, still available on the LCHM Chico 223 Facebook page on September 15, an individual is accused of being gay by name. The site says that "any person who kills a homosexual will be entitled to a reward in Paradise" and adds: "Catch, kidnap and torture the PDs (a derogatory term for gays), there will be no problem."

Using a stolen logo

In a strange twist, another association that is angry about the appearance of these pages is the original anti-gay group known as the Fight Against Homosexuality in Mali, based in Bamako. In a statement published on Facebook, the group condemned the use of its logo by “individuals with bad intentions who make insulting videos, which we deplore because they are against our values”. 

When contacted by the FRANCE 24 Observers team, a spokesperson for the organisation said that the aim of the real LCHM is "peaceful, based on raising awareness and inciting the state to take measures [against homosexuality], but certainly not to act ourselves”.

The organisation told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that it would consider suing the Facebook pages if they continue to use the stolen logo.

In the second part of our investigation, we will look at how these Facebook groups are affecting the lives of LGBTQI people in Mali and how certain NGOs and associations are organising to protect the victims.

Read the second part here: The witch hunt for homosexuals in Mali: One victim's story (2/2)