Human Rights Watch, a leading advocate
of human rights worldwide, on Friday called for the immediate release
of nine Senegalese men found guilty of being gay and given a harsh
eight year sentence.
The men, including a prominent AIDS
activist, were sentenced in Dakar on January 6 on charges of
“indecent and unnatural acts” and “forming associations of
Diadji Diouf, who heads the HIV
prevention organization AIDES Senegal, and the others were arrested
during a police raid at Diouf's apartment, where he runs the program
that distributes condoms and HIV treatment to underground gay men in
Senegal, a largely Muslim country that criminalizes being gay.
“These charges will have a chilling
effect on AIDS programs,” said Scott Long, director of Human Rights
Watch's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program.
“Outreach workers and people seeking HIV prevention or treatment
should not have to worry about police persecution. Senegal should
drop these charges and repeal it's sodomy law.”
The sentencing of the men relied merely
on suspicion of engaging in homosexual conduct, said HRW officials,
who expressed concern for the men's safety.
“So long as they remain detained –
given the general climate of hostility against men perceived to
engage in homosexual conduct and the risk of violence against them –
Senegalese authorities should ensure their safety by separating them
from other prisoners, if necessary. The authorities must also ensure
that the men receive any necessary care, including antiretrovial
therapy,” HRW officials said.
Prosecutors used the condoms and
lubricants used for HIV-prevention work collected by police during
their raid as evidence of homosexual conduct. The men received the
maximum five-year sentence, with an additional three years added for
A United Nations resolution calling for
the universal decriminalization of being gay was introduced in the
General Assembly on December 18 and gathered 66 member signatures,
but many Muslim countries condemned it and introduced their own
anti-gay resolution which gathered 60 signatures.
Backers of the pro-gay resolution say
anti-gay laws are used to “harass civil society, restrict free
expression, discredit enemies, and destroy lives.”
Anti-gay sentiment in Africa has been
on the rise in recent years. Ethiopian religious leaders recently
called on lawmakers to constitutionally ban being gay. In making
their case, the religious leaders called being gay “the pinnacle of
immorality” and blamed it for an increase in sexual attacks on boys
and young men. Nigerian leaders attempted to pass a law last year
that would have criminalized associating with a known gay person.
And Gambia's president has called for the beheading of gay men and
“Senegal's sodomy law invades
privacy, criminalizes health work, justifies brutality, and feeds
fear,” Long said. “This case shows why it is time for the sodomy
law to go.”
Being gay remains illegal in 80
countries throughout the world, according to the U.N. Nine countries
prescribe death as a punishment.