Two Senegalese teenagers will stand trial this coming week for allegedly committing homosexual acts. It is the latest in a string of cases targeting gay men and now young boys in Senegal.
Newspapers here in Dakar are preoccupied with the onset of the Muslim holiday Ramadan and the final matches of the season for Senegal's most popular sport, traditional wrestling. They have yet to comment on the story of two young men from the religious town of Darou Mousty in northern Senegal. The two seventeen-year-old boys will stand trial this week for "homosexual acts" in a juvenile court in the region's capital, Louga.
Three other young men from Darou Mousty were arrested with the teenagers in June, but were tried in an adult court in August. Two of the men received five-year sentences and a third, who is younger, was sent to jail for two years. In Senegal, homosexuality is punishable by a maximum of 5 years in jail and fines of up to $3,000.
Siré Ba is a lawyer representing two of the men, including one of the seventeen-year-olds. He says the men were in a private house when a neighbor walked in. Ba says the young men were not caught in the act of having sex, but rather were involved in what he calls 'questionable' activities.
Senegalese law requires that people of the same sex be caught in-the-act in order to be convicted. But Ba says the judge's decision in sentencing the men was subjective.
Since February 2008 when a local paper published photos of a gay marriage ceremony, gay men in Senegal have lived in constant fear of harassment, abuse and imprisonment. Some have fled the country and others have been forced to move to different towns or neighborhoods to avoid discrimination and assault.
In December 2008, nine men were arrested in the home of a prominent gay activist and sentenced to eight years in prison for 'unnatural acts' and 'conspiracy'. Senegal's court of appeals overturned the ruling in April 2009.
But violent public backlash provoked by conservative religious leaders has many gay men now fearing for their safety. In May, the grave of Madièye Diallo was repeatedly dug up and dumped outside of the Muslim cemetery where he was buried. Diallo was a gay man whose sexual orientation was well known.
Cary Alan Johnson is executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He says, "We are standing in solidarity with human rights movements in Senegal and with the LGBT community in Senegal which is calling for Senegal to adhere to its commitments -- commitments to its own constitution and to the African charter on human rights and its commitment to the UN human rights treaties. All of which say, in one way or another, that discrimination is wrong. Mistreating people simply because of their sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong."
Johnson hopes Senegal's commitment to human rights, to diversity and to the rule of law will prevail in the case of the young men from Darou Mousty.