After state-supported homophobic campaigns in Russia, Zimbabwe and several other African countries, the Buddhist island state of Sri Lanka has also begun a systematic crackdown on its gay community, rights activists say.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, which controls the army, law enforcement agencies and the media, is now orchestrating a smear campaign against the community to project its members as criminals and pedophiles and alienate them from civil society, according to human rights defenders.
The community is alarmed by two incidents last month and the media coverage of them that portrays homosexuals as criminals and pedophiles.
One involved what a local radio station described as Sri Lanka’s “first gay wedding”.
The Neth FM Balumgala said police swooped down on a house described by neighbors as a meeting point for homosexuals and arrested five people from a “marriage” held between a schoolboy and a man with the consent of the boy’s family.
However, sources in Colombo told Gay Star News it was a sting operation orchestrated by the radio station and law enforcement officials.
The sources, who declined to be named for security reasons, said the house was the venue of a gay and transgender prostitution racket run by a florist, identified only as Rohan.
Rohan apparently had connections in high places and police at first ignored neighbors’ complaints about schoolboys being forced into the racket.
Subsequently, a reporter befriended a 17-year-old transgender for three months, won the trust of the teen as well as Rohan, and pretended to make an offer of marriage to the former.
While the fake marriage was taking place, police swooped down following a pre-arranged signal, and arrested five people, including Rohan. Media reports carried photographs that clearly showed the gay teen’s face while the reporter, who had pretended to marry him, was allowed to cover up his face.
They also disclosed the teen’s name, though he is a minor, and vilified him.
While busting the prostitution network was laudable, rights activists say the media projected it in a distorted way, making it seem like a gay rendezvous where the teen victims went voluntarily.
The traumatized teen is said to have fled to a Buddhist temple for shelter and sought to become a monk. The relentless media, sources said, disclosed his ordained name as a novice as well.
In another incident last month, a Buddhist monk was arrested for allegedly having sex with five underage boys.
‘There is a concerted effort to discredit the LGBT community through a smear campaign that portrays them as pedophiles and criminals,” a rights activist said. “While we completely agree that those who engage in pedophilic activities should be punished using the full extent of the law, it is not only unfair but extremely provocative to state that ALL homosexuals are pedophiles.
‘Earlier this year, a branch of Sri Lanka Police made presentations on child abuse and categorically stated that homosexuality is the leading cause of child abuse in Sri Lanka.
‘These days, it’s not only the LGBT community that is the target but all NGOs.’
The trend, the activist added, had been rising since last year after the Lankan government came under heavy criticism for its poor human rights record at the rights meeting in Geneva, the Universal Periodic Review.
Rights groups had informed the Geneva meet that the LGBT community in Sri Lanka faced rape, battery, discrimination and exclusion from social events.
Section 365a of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, even in private spaces, making homosexuality a criminal offense.
Sri Lanka suffered a 26-year-old violence ethnic insurgency during which it saw gross human rights violations, perpetrated both by the army and the Tamil guerrillas.
The insurrection was wiped out in 2009 with the killing of the guerrilla chief V Prabhakaran. It resulted in Rajapaksa sweeping the election held the following year and strengthening his control over the state.