[JURIST] As appeals court in Senegal on Monday ordered the release of nine members of AIDS awareness group AIDES Senegal who had been convicted of sodomy and sentenced to eight years in prison in January. Having been officially charged with acts against nature and the creation of an association of criminals, the men appealed [AFP report], asserting that police reports surrounding the arrests had relied primarily on anonymous tips. Under Senegalese Penal Code Article 3.913, homosexuality is punishable by up to five years in prison or up to 1,500,0000 CFA francs. The defendants were sentenced to an additional three years due to the trial court's ruling that their organization was engaged in actively recruiting conversions to homosexuality. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [official website] applauded [press release] the appellate court's holding, marking the decision as an important step toward reducing discrimination to the country's homosexual population.
The trial court's January decision was met with widespread international criticism. UNAIDS, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the French and Swedish embassies, on behalf of the European Union, have been advocating the release of the prisoners since their sentencing. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commisssion (IGLHRC) and the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) [advocacy websites] have both urged [statement] the Senegalese government to repeal the sodomy law. The Society for AIDS in Africa and the International AIDS Society [advocacy websites] issued a joint statement [text, PDF] in January asserting the necessity of overcoming state-sanctioned discrimination toward homosexuals as an integral step in overcoming the HIV threat in Senegal. In December, the UN General Assembly [official website] split [JURIST report] over the the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality [press release] as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations, including many African countries, signed an opposing statement.