President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has somewhat disingenuously denied that homosexuality is illegal in her country or that she supports the criminalisation of homosexuality.

Sirleaf’s press secretary, Jerolinmek Matthew Piah, wrote to the Guardian in reaction to a report and video interview by the newspaper in which she said that she would not sign any law decriminalising homosexuality or relating to homosexuality.

The comments were viewed with concern by the American government which has publicly supported the Nobel Peace Prize winning leader in the past.

In the letter, Piah claims that the president said that she will not sign a law decriminalising homosexuality simply because homosexuality isn’t a criminal offence in Liberia in the first place.

“There currently exists no law referencing homosexuality in Liberia, and as such the President could not be defending a law on homosexuality as was insinuated in your publication,” said Piah.

He, however, admits that while homosexuality is not specifically barred, voluntary sodomy is illegal (and carries penalties of up to three years in prison).

“The President and her Government believe that the current law regarding sexual practices sufficiently addresses the concerns of the majority of Liberians and guarantees respect for traditional values. The reality is that the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance and no one has ever been prosecuted under that law.”

On a more positive note, the President’s office confirms that she will not sign or support any law that aims to further criminalise homosexuality and this includes an “initial attempt by two members of the Liberian legislature to introduce tougher laws targeting homosexuality”.

The letter adds promisingly: “The President also thinks that with the unprecedented freedom of speech and expression Liberia enjoys today, our budding democracy will be strong enough to accommodate new ideas and debate both their value and Liberia’s laws with openness, respect and independence.”

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