MSM Involved With HIV/AIDS Organization in Senegal Sentenced to Eight Years in Jail
A Senegalese court on Wednesday sentenced nine men who have sex with men to eight years in jail -- the highest sentence of its kind ever handed down in the country -- AFP/News24.com reports. The men were arrested in December 2008 and charged with "indecent conduct and unnatural acts and membership of a criminal organization." Consensual same-sex relations are illegal in Senegal and punishable by up to five years in jail. However, the judge increased the men's sentences to eight years because of their "membership of a criminal organization." Most of the men belonged to a group aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS, according to AFP/News24.com (AFP/News24.com, 1/7). Diadji Diouf, the head of an organization that provides HIV prevention services to MSM in Senegal, was among the men sentenced, the AP/Guardian reports (AP/Guardian, 1/8). One of the men's attorneys, Issa Diop, said that he plans to appeal the sentence.
Joel Nana of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said the organization is "in shock," noting that it is the first time he has seen MSM receive a sentence of this degree, AFP/News24.com reports (AFP/News24.com, 1/7). BBC News reports that Cary Alan Johnson of IGLHRC said he is "deeply disturbed" by the sentence, adding that although there have been "pretty consistent human rights violations in Senegal," the "extremity" of the sentence and the speed of the trial "really shocks us in a country that has been moving so positively towards rule of law and a progressive human rights regime" (BBC News, 1/8).
The head of a gay rights group in Senegal said that the sentence is discriminatory. "Many gays are already fleeing to neighboring countries because our living conditions (in Senegal) are getting worse and worse," he said. Many gay advocates have said that homophobic attitudes have increased over the past year, according to AFP/News24.com (AFP/News24.com, 1/7). Stigma and discrimination against MSM supported by the Senegalese government has hindered efforts by HIV/AIDS advocates and organizations attempting to reach the population. Senegal's National Council for the Fight Against AIDS in 2002 began to fund HIV prevention outreach for MSM, and it formally included the group in the national strategy against HIV/AIDS a few years ago. However, in March -- when the country hosted the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference -- Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade launched a campaign against attendees of a gay wedding, which included the founder of the first MSM organization established in the country. According to studies conducted by researchers at a university in the capital of Dakar in conjunction with local MSM, about 20% of Senegalese MSM are HIV-positive, compared with 0.7% of the general population. In addition, about 80% of MSM in the country have female partners (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/4/08).