20 August 2009

Senegal: New Arrests and Convictions for Same-Sex Relations

press release

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Inner Circle are outraged at reports that a 17 year-old Senegalese man will stand trial on August 24 for sexual acts "against nature" and that two other men were convicted on identical charges during the week of August 10, 2009.

The three men, all from the town of Darou Mousty, in Louga, Senegal, were arrested and detained for alleged same-sex relations on June 19, 2009, together with a fourth man whose status is currently unknown. The first two men were sentenced to two and five years in prison respectively. Reports indicate that denunciations from neighbors were the only evidence against the men.

These are the latest in a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions based on perceived sexual orientation in Senegal, a country in which same-sex relations are illegal, homophobia is widespread, and incitement toward violence against those perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is often encouraged by politicians and religious leaders.

"This is yet another indication that gay men and those perceived to be gay are in grave danger in Senegal," said IGLHRC executive director Cary Alan Johnson. "The arrests violate both international and African human rights law. Unpopularity is never a justification for abuse."

Human rights abuses related to sexual orientation and gender identity in Senegal have accelerated since February 2008, when 10 people were arbitrarily arrested and charged with "homosexuality, incitement to debauchery and corruption of good behavior," after popular tabloid Icône published pictures of a ceremony to affirm a gay relationship. In a separate incident in August 2008, two men were arrested at their home in Dakar for "homosexual marriage" and also charged with "acts against the order of nature." In December 2008, nine members of AIDES Sénégal who were participating in an education workshop to combat HIV and AIDS were arrested and sentenced to 8 years in prison for "indecent conduct and unnatural acts" and "conspiracy." The Court of Appeals in Dakar overturned their conviction in April 2009.

Violence and official persecution of those perceived to be LGBT is also evidenced by several disturbing incidents in which the graves of men perceived to be gay have been desecrated and their bodies exhumed. In May 2009, the body of 30-year old Madièye Diallo was dug up from his grave in the town of Thiès. After his family re-buried him, his body was exhumed again and dumped outside the family's home. Finally, family members buried the body in the grounds of their own house.

Religious and political leaders in Senegal have stoked the flames of hatred. In recent months, representatives from both sectors have loudly condemned same-sex practicing people. Addressing the release of the December 2008 detainees, Massamba Diop, the Imam of Pikine, told his congregants that: "the judge was too lenient, we should have killed them." In May 2009, Prime Minister Souleymane Ndiaye Ndéné asserted that "homosexuality… is a sign of a crisis of values" in Senegal and that the Senegalese government would become more involved in future attempts to repress and punish same-sex relations.

"The Imam of Pikine is inciting his congregation to murder," according to Imam Muhsin Hendricks, Director and Spiritual Advisor of the Inner Circle, an Islamic human rights organization based in South Africa. "But the Quran instructs us in Surah 2:179 that 'in the law of equality there is the saving of life, o you men of understanding so that you may restrain yourselves.'"

Under Article 3.913 of the Senegalese penal code, homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs ($200) to 1,500,000 CFA francs ($3,000). Both IGLHRC and the Inner Circle have called for the repeal of this legislation, which empowers police and other authorities to abuse, harass, extort, and imprison those whose sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression challenges social norms.

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