DAKAR – The release of 11 people accused of participating in a gay marriage celebration in Senegal has fueled protests by Islamic organizations against the Government, who consider the country’s “anti-homosexuality” law is not sufficiently restrictive.
The Senegalese Penal Code, adopted in 1966, punishes homosexual acts by 1 to 5 years in prison and imposes fines of up to 2,800 euros ($3,059).
Last December, 11 people were arrested for participating in a homosexual marriage in the town of Kaolack, southwest of the country, and in late January they were released for lack of evidence.
This prosecution’s decision provoked a reaction from 20 Islamic organizations, which interpreted the decision as an example of growing tolerance towards homosexuals in the country.
Senegalese Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba stated “In the eyes of the law, there are no homosexuals in Senegal.”
In response, 17 Islamic associations held a joint press conference to criticize the minister’s remarks and demand he step down.
They also called for amending the “anti-homosexuality” law; considered to contain ambiguous articles because it does not quote verbatim “homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexuality,” which are the preferences considered as a “threat” to the organizations’ culture and religious beliefs.
These same associations planned a demonstration on Jan. 22 in Dakar to protest against the law; however, the protests were eventually banned by the government.
Nevertheless, nearly 200 people challenged the ban and protested before they were dispersed with tear gas by police, who also arrested 11 demonstrators.
In this regard, the director of Amnesty International in Senegal, Seydi Gassama told EFE “Those who ask that the law must be amended to call homosexuals by their names ignore all other laws. A law should criminalize acts, not people.”
“The current form of the law is already too punitive, and there is no justification to make it worse,” he added.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have asked the Senegalese government to annul the law criminalizing homosexuality.
A prominent Senegalese LGBT activist, who preferred to remain anonymous, told EFE that the current main concern is not the law but the increasingly violent attitude of hostile groups.
“There are groups that engage in acts of violence against homosexuals and enjoy total impunity, despite several court cases,” the activist said.
“We cannot accept the attitude of those who seek to replace justice or God to punish homosexuals.
“Religion, both Islamic and Christian, does not entitle anyone to use violence in order to impose a way of being on others,” she maintained.
The activist recalled that the case has nothing to do with defending gay rights, but equal rights for all, adding “As people, we have the same rights as everyone else.”
The situation of homosexuals in Senegal remains similar to the widespread trend in the rest of the African continent, where there are 38 countries criminalizing homosexuality.
In Uganda, homosexuality is harshly suppressed, where there was an attempt to punish it with the death penalty before the punishment was mitigated to life sentence.
In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh believes gay people are “parasites” who deserve to be beheaded.