News / Africa

Activists Criticize Senegal for Anti-Gay Persecution

Nico Colombant

While gay rights are slowly expanding around the world, including in Africa, human rights activists note some political, media and religious leaders are leading sometimes violent campaigns in the opposite direction. Activists say they feel the tradition of tolerance no longer applies to homosexuals in that West African nation.

Protesters in Senegal screamed at each other during this noisy anti-gay rally, one of many broken up by security forces over the past two years.

One protester said it was not normal in a mostly Muslim country to have homosexuals, and that it was his right to protest their existence.

Ryan Thoreson has been researching anti-gay persecution in Senegal as part of his work with the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

He says Senegal's traditional image as a country of tolerance has been severely tarnished by a recent wave of arrests, negative media coverage, and announcements by political and religious leaders targeting Senegal's gay community.

"Every time, there is a wave of arrests, they are covered in a really sensationalistic way and politicians have picked up on that and capitalized on that as well by running and organizing marches and inciting people to violence as a way of stirring up support for opposition parties and the opposition to the government," said Thoreson.  "And then, as soon as the government saw how popular that could be, you saw people like the prime minister making the same sorts of accusations and condemnations."

Prime Minister Souleymane Ndiaye Ndéné last year called homosexuality "a sign of a crisis of values." He said it was due to the world's economic problems, and that government ministries as well as society as a whole should fight against homosexuality. His statements were then praised in Senegalese media. Articles said the prime minister was standing up against alleged pro-gay western lobbying.
 
Senegal's penal code says what it calls "an impure or unnatural act with another person of the same sex" is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. Last year, activists fighting HIV/AIDS were sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of homosexual acts and criminal conspiracy.

When their conviction was overturned several months later on procedural matters, an influential religious leader, Imam Massamba Diop, said they should have been killed. Other Imams said unless there was proof they had committed homosexual acts, they should be set free, and that God would judge them.

Thoreson, the American researcher, uses the acronym LGBT to refer to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.  He says once people are identified as being one of these in Senegal, their life and even death become difficult.

"Many LGBT are sort of in and out of exile. They have to move frequently from place to place because their housing is not secure and if their neighbors, or families or communities find them to be LGBT, or if allegations are made that someone is LGBT, they are often ejected from that community, or they face pretty severe violence from even their own family members," he added.  "There have also been reports that the corpses of people who are presumed to be LGBT have been dug up in multiple cities from Muslim cemeteries, and have been dumped back into their family's own compound, or dumped by the side of the road."

Last year, the body of a man believed to have been gay was dug up twice in the western town of Thies.  

A Senegalese lesbian living in the United States, Selly Thiam, recently started an audio history project and Web site called "None on the Record."

Interviews, which Thoreson has been using to complement his research, have been conducted across Africa.

Most, like this gay man describing his experiences in Senegal, requested they remain anonymous to avoid retaliation.

He says if someone is known to be gay in Senegal it is a justification for others to insult and attack him, and rob him on the streets or in his home. He says people do not believe it is possible to be Muslim and gay.

He adds that in the 1990s, gays were viewed as artists who were called on to help organize parties and public ceremonies. Now, he says, they are viewed as persona non-grata.

One woman who is lesbian says she is a human like others.  She says she has her religious faith and she has her heart.

She adds that being in love is when your heart chooses someone regardless of gender and says she believes it is a noble life to follow one's heart.

One gay Senegalese man who has exiled himself to Belgium for security reasons says there needs to be a public debate involving media, politicians and religious leaders to discuss equal rights and protection against discrimination.

Pro-gay activists in Senegal say they feel they are victims of politicians and religious leaders trying to gain power by using hate and fear tactics against them to divert attention amid poverty, unemployment and youth frustration.

They say they also fear the publicizing of help they are receiving from outside the country, saying it could hurt their cause more than help it.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs