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Foreign Teacher Fined for Public Indecency in Senegal


A 19-year old Irish man has been fined about $300 in Senegal after being found guilty of public indecency. He was also given a four-month suspended sentence. The foreign volunteer worker, who was released from jail last Friday, spent four weeks in jail awaiting a final verdict. Selah Hennessy visited him in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and has this report.

Covered in beetle bites and looking dirty and exhausted, Patrick Devine said he could not believe he had been holed up in jail, waiting for sentencing, for such a long time.

Hunched against a wall in the jail courtyard he said he was sharing his cell with 40 men and sleeping most nights on a cold cement floor.

He said Senegal's slow judicial system meant that he was being punished excessively for what seemed to him like a minor offense.

Devine was in Senegal volunteering as a teacher and aid worker with the "Teaching and Projects Abroad program." He had spent two months teaching Senegalese kids and taking care of hundreds of beggar children, or talibe, who swarm the city's streets.

He was thrown in jail after dropping his pants outside a local government building. He said the prank was part of a string of dares he and other volunteers were playing.

But a resident saw him in the act and brought a policeman to the scene. He was arrested with a Canadian girl who had been taking his picture, but she was let go within days.

A Senegalese lawyer and human rights activist based in London, Ibrahima Kane, says public acts of indecency are always treated very seriously in Senegal.

"People believe that it is really important in the public arena that people behave in a certain way," he said. "You can do what you want in your private life, but in the public arena it is really difficult for the state and for the community to accept this type of attitude."

He says visitors to foreign countries must understand and respect local customs or they will be faced with the law.

He says Devine was unlucky to have committed the offense during Senegal's hot months of July and August, because the legal process then moves even slower than usual.

"In Senegal even in the normal period to get the bail takes a lot of time and sometimes people can even stay in jail for six months maximum, that is what the law says, six months maximum without being given bail," he explained.

While in jail, Devine said all he wanted was to get back to Ireland to be with his girlfriend. He now has that possibility, as well as plans to go to university in Belfast.

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