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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs