Human Rights Watch has urged the Senegalese government to release seven men convicted of consensual same-sex conduct in an improper trial in Dakar last month.
The men were found guilty on August 21 under Senegal’s penal code, which prohibits “acts against nature” between persons of the same sex.
They were sentenced to six months in prison and additional 18-month suspended sentences.
The group were arrested on July 21, in Guédiawaye, a suburb of the capital, Dakar, after the mother of one of the men reported him to the police. The police went to the apartment and arrested all those present without a warrant.
Human Rights Watch said the evidence against the men consisted of nothing more than a police document claiming that they were caught in undefined “compromising positions” and that they had condoms and lubricants in the apartment.
At the trial, neither police officers nor any other witnesses testified against the men. The prosecutor asserted in court that the men’s telephones contained incriminating messages and images, but did not present them in court.
The prosecutor also charged the men with possession of illegal drugs, but no drugs were presented as evidence, and the court acquitted the men on the drug charge.
“The conviction of seven men on homosexuality charges is an affront to a tolerant society as well as Senegal’s commitments under international law,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“It also sends the Senegalese public an ominous message that having condoms in your home can be used as evidence that you’ve committed a crime,” added Ghoshal.
The organisation noted that although 36 African countries have laws on the books that criminalise same-sex conduct, Senegal is one of the few in which people are actually prosecuted and sometimes convicted on such charges.
“The absurd conviction of these seven men for acts that should never be a crime is sadly not an aberration, but reflects the Senegalese government’s broader discrimination against the LGBT community,” Ghoshal said. “Unless this case is quickly quashed, it will be a blight on Senegal’s international standing for a long time to come.”
The use of condoms as “evidence” of homosexual conduct is also not new. In December 2008, police in the town of Mbao arrested nine health activists at a training session on HIV/AIDS prevention, citing condoms and lubricants as evidence. There was no evidence that the men were engaged in sexual acts.
Shockingly, the activists were convicted in January 2009 and sentenced to eight years in prison, exceeding the maximum sentence under the law of five years. The Dakar Appeals Court reversed the decision and ordered their release in April 2009.