A Moroccan appeals court has upheld the earlier convictions of a group of men accused of homosexual acts.
The six men were arrested in April in the rural town of Fqih Bensalah. They were later convicted of “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex,” along with incitement to prostitution, and public drunkenness or driving under the influence.
They received various jail sentences of up to three years and were also sentenced to banishment from the region in May. It appears that four of the six men were found guilty of the homosexuality charges.
Human Rights Watch reported that the appeals court last week upheld the guilty verdicts but did reduce the sentences. It shortened the prison terms for two defendants, converted the others to suspended sentences, and cancelled the banishment orders.
The organisation noted that the legal proceeding also raised concerns. One of the defence lawyers, Hadda Maidar, told Human Rights Watch that the convictions were solely based on statements the men made while in police custody.
All six recanted those statements at the trial, claiming they had only signed them because of police threats. The court called no witnesses and reviewed no other evidence.
One of the defendants told the court that, while intoxicated, he allowed into his car a person he believed to be a woman but who, in fact, was a man. Except for this admission, the defendants maintained their innocence to all of the charges.
Whether or not the charges in the case have merit, and whether or not the men received a fair trial, the Moroccan government should stop prosecuting people for homosexuality, Human Rights Watch said.
“Moroccan authorities should stop prosecuting and jailing people for their intimate behaviour with other consenting adults,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Whatever the sexual orientation of these six defendants, they shouldn’t face criminal penalties because of it.”
Details of the case have been difficult to obtain, owing to the remoteness of the region where it took place and the reticence of many people connected to criminal cases involving homosexual activity to discuss them publicly.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Morocco with penalties ranging from six months to three years in jail, as well as fines.