Dakar, the capital of Senegal
Four of the five women arrested last week on charges of lesbianism in Senegal have been released due to lack of evidence.
The women were detained at a birthday party last week at the Piano Bar in Dakar’s Yoff district, a popular meeting area for gays and lesbians.
One of the women was said to work for lesbian rights group Women’s Smile, but they denied being lesbian in court.
They had been accused of kissing in public, something which they also denied; pointing out that if they had done so this would have caused an uproar in the venue.
AP reported that the fifth women is a minor and is being tried separately.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the women’s release but noted that LGBT people in Senegal “continue to be subjected to homophobic witch-hunts, encouraged by extremist religious leaders and unchallenged by the authorities”.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Senegal under article 319 of the penal code which criminsalises “improper or unnatural” acts. Those found guilty face up to five years in prison.
In October, Senegal refused to accept recommendations through the United Nations Human Rights Committee for it to decriminalise same-sex sexual relations and to ensure that LGBT people do not face discrimination or violence.
Sidiki Kaba, the minister of justice of Senegal, recently denied that article 319 targets gays and lesbians, despite it being used against LGBT people; as was the case in these arrests.
“Article 319 talks about acts contrary to nature. The fact of being homosexual in Senegal is not a crime, and there has been no prosecution or trial of persons who are homosexual under the Criminal Code,” he stated.
A recent global study found that 96% of the public in the predominantly Muslim country believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.