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Senegal police arrest 4 over attacks to rid their neighborhood of gays

Monday, February 3, 2014
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DAKAR, Senegal — Police in Senegal have arrested four young men accused of hunting down and injuring gay men with stones and batons, an official said Monday.

SenegalThey targeted five gay men on Thursday night, said Mamadou Faye, a police official in the city of Rufisque located just outside Senegal’s capital, Dakar.

“The suspects were arrested Friday for destruction of property and causing injury,” Faye said, declining to go into more detail because of they investigation. “They wanted to clean their neighborhood, which they said was infested with homosexuals.”

A Rufisque-based representative of the HIV/AIDS organization Prudence, who insisted on anonymity out of fear for his safety, said the assailants used batons and stones in the attack. More than four people took part, the representative said.

Anti-gay sentiment runs deep in Senegal, where the penal code calls for prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to $3,000 for com mitting “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex.”

Since 2008 the Muslim-majority country has been gripped by what Human Rights Watch describes as an anti-gay “moral panic,” with arrests and mob justice on the rise.

On Friday, a judge sentenced two men to six months in jail for engaging in gay sex.

Last November, police arrested five women and accused them of kissing in public at a restaurant in Dakar’s Yoff district, though a judge later found there was insufficient evidence to convict them.

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The issue of gay rights took center stage during a visit from United States President Barack Obama last June. At a joint press conference in Dakar, Senegalese President Macky Sall openly clashed with Obama on the issue of whether homosexual acts should be decriminalized, saying Senegal was “not ready” to take such a step. Sall insisted that gays in Senegal were only prosecuted if caught violating the law.

In Rufisque, public opinion appears to be on the side of the alleged assailants. More than 100 residents including local imams took part in a march Friday calling for their release, said Charles Niang, who helped organize it.

Niang said residents would continue to demonstrate until the four men were freed.

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