The Court of Appeals in Dakar, Senegal, on Monday overturned the convictions of same-sex conduct for nine men and ordered their immediate release, AFP/Google.com reports. According to their lawyers, the men were scheduled to be released by Monday evening (AFP/Google.com, 4/20).
The men were arrested in December 2008 and charged with "indecent conduct and unnatural acts and membership of a criminal organization." Consensual same-sex relations are illegal in Senegal and punishable by up to five years in jail. However, the lower court judge increased each man's sentence to eight years because of their "membership of a criminal organization." Most of the men belonged to a group aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/16).
During the beginning of the appeals process last week, defense lawyers argued that the police report on which the accusations were based primarily relied on anonymous tip-offs. In addition, the lawyers said that the men were not caught performing same-sex conduct, as the prosecution had suggested during the trial. According to AFP/Google.com, the prosecution did not contest the defense claims.
HIV/AIDS and other groups welcomed the ruling, AFP/Google.com reports. "Homophobia and criminalization based on a person's sexual orientation is fueling the AIDS epidemic," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a statement. He added, "I welcome today's decision by the court of appeals to release these men. We urge Senegal to take steps to remove such laws that block the AIDS response." The Dakar-based human rights group Raddho called for a discussion on "the total decriminalization of homosexuality" (AFP/Google.com, 4/20).