Outraged Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender groups have expressed their deep concern at what they are calling “a strong message of hatred” coming from Sengal as nine men are jailed for a duration of eight years for homosexual acts.
Senegal, a predominantly Muslim nation belonging to West Africa, is, according to recent statistics, amongst some 38 countries that have legislation against homosexuality. However even amidst such a climate, this sentence has been highlighted as being extreme.
The usual maximum penalty for sodomy is five years, and this is, in fact, all the prosecution is reported to have asked for. However several of those accused were also members of an AIDS initiative in Senegal, and for this reason the judge also sentenced them for “criminal conspiracy,” as well as “crimes against nature.”
The initiative in question is the organization AIDES Senegal that provides information and education on the prevention of HIV for men. Mr. Diadji Diouf, the head of the organization, was one of those sentenced after police raided his apartment on December 19th and took him into custody.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission voiced their disapproval, saying they were “deeply concerned by what appears to be a violation of the right to a free and fair trial, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom from discrimination.”
Issa Diop, one of the four defense lawyers for the convicted, said, “This is the first time that the Senegalese legal system has handed down such a harsh sentence against gays,” whilst adding that the fight was far from over and his belief that the penalty was “a deliberate will to penalize [the gay community].”
The Climate of Oppression in Senegal
Whilst the country has had quite progressive policies in the past, in recent years Senegal has become increasingly hostile towards homosexuals. In 2008, two men were arrested and wide scale riots ensued as a magazine published pictures of the individuals in a “gay wedding.”
One of those men, as well as hundreds of others, have sought asylum in Europe and the U.S., fleeing the increasingly oppressive authority’s grip. Other reports have documented gay people being terrorized in their own homes, evicted and imprisoned for suspected “unnatural acts.”
The “gay-wedding” photo scandal led to witch hunt-like conspiracy theories, with speculation that many of the government officials may have been gay themselves and were poised to try and take over. Whilst unfounded, this was fodder for magazines and newspapers for weeks, adding to the stigma of gay Senegalese.
Joel Nana of the IGLHRC summed up last week’s sentence, saying that “It is really sending the wrong message to a community that needs help and protection.” Some are calling attitudes toward homosexuality in Senegal as being “schizophrenic,” citing attacks on gays and lesbians supposedly validated on the grounds of religion.
This has come as AIDS charities are also expressing concern at the Senegalese government’s failure to acknowledge the growing health problem, and are worried that this will drive gay men into having more unprotected sex after the arrest of Mr. Diadji Diouf.