An increase in violence and tougher court sentences against homosexuals indicate Senegal is experiencing a rise in homophobia. Homosexuality is illegal in the West African country, which is 95 percent Muslim, and homosexual acts are punishable with a maximum jail sentence of five years.
Recently, nine gay HIV-prevention workers were sentenced to eight years in jail. The sentence was three more years than the statutory maximum and more than the prosecutor requested. The men were given extra jail time because the judge ruled that their HIV-prevention efforts were actually a cover for recruiting gay men, according to Senegalese media reports.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) asked Senegal to drop the charges against the men and repeal the law against homosexuality. "Senegal's sodomy law invades privacy, criminalizes health work, justifies brutality and feeds fear," said Scott Long, director of HRW's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program. "These charges will have a chilling effect on AIDS programs. Outreach workers and people seeking HIV prevention or treatment should not have to worry about police prosecution," Long said.
In February 2008, at least five Senegalese were arrested and a dozen investigated after photographs of a "gay marriage" appeared in a magazine. As a result, Senegal's Muslim Imams asked that the maximum jail term for homosexual acts or "indecent behavior" be increased to up to 10 years. Also, the bodies of two dead homosexuals were reportedly desecrated.
Cheikh Ibrahima Niang, a social anthropology professor at Dakar University, blames the rise in anti-homosexual attitudes on "a certain radicalization of religious speech." He added that because of worsening economic conditions, "the society is in crisis and is tending to channel its aggressions onto the weakest minorities, like homosexuals."
Ironically, Senegal is one of only nine African nations whose AIDS prevention plan includes a focus on men who have sex with men.
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.