In the run-up to an anti-homosexuality rally planned in Senegal on Sunday, Feb. 20, the local advocacy group Collectif Free is appealing to international supporters of LGBTQ+ rights to provide financial support and to express their outrage at a series of increasingly barbaric acts committed by Senegalese homophobes against the nation’s LGBTQ+ citizens.
By Moïse Manoël-Florisse
The anti-homosexuality rally, scheduled for Sunday at the Place de la Nation in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is being organized by the fundamentalist Islamist group Ànd Sàmm Jikko Yi (which means “Together for the Defense of Values” in the Wolof language).
Below are edited excerpts from an interview by journalist/researcher Moïse Manoël-Florisse with Collectif Free’s leader, Souleymane Diouf, who uses a pseudonym for his protection.
To support Collectif Free:
- Donate through the Paris-based advocacy group Ardis (the Association for the Defense of the Rights of LGBTQI+ People in Immigration and Residency) via the French-language fundraising site HelloAsso.
- Sign Collectif Free’s online petition for an inclusive and discrimination-free Senegal
What is the tally of homophobia’s victims in Senegal since December 2021?
As part of our human rights monitoring mission, since December 2021, we have counted five people incarcerated as well as a young man who has gone missing. These figures are far from exhaustive because many cases are not reported in the press or in the media.
This anxiety-inducing period was characterized by heated debates surrounding the initiative of a group of opposition deputies to bring forward a project to increase criminal penalties for homosexuality, while the country’s jails already contain many LGBTQI+ people imprisoned for “violations of morality” under Article 319 Paragraph 3 of the existing Penal Code. [That section provides for one to five years of imprisonment for any person who commits an “unnatural act with an individual of his or her sex.’]
Since December 2021 we have had to assist and take care of seven people who have been attacked. Deplorably, these attacks often were filmed and the videos widely distributed on social network, in order to humiliate and make any social reintegration impossible to the victims anywhere in the country.
In addition, we have counted five people driven out of their homes by their relatives and to whom we provide assistance. Among the victims are both men and women, since lesbians are not spared from the wave of homophobia that is currently raging throughout the country.
Homophobia indiscriminately victimizes both Senegalese and foreign nationals, such as resident or visiting Gambians, Ivorians and Guineans. We are currently sheltering three of them.
In response to this silent humanitarian crisis in Senegal, Collectif Free du Sénégal has set up a free national helpline, reachable from Whatsapp, for people who need to express their sufferings. You can contact us at +33783106288.
The hotline covers the whole country but, if nothing is done to stop the wave of homophobic violence, it will reach capacity as early as March, faced with the volume of people who are calling in distress. Homophobia’s victims need medical, social, psychological and nutritional assistance, which we try to provide.
We are in such a critical situation today that we are launching a fundraising appeal in order to be able to help these people in need. We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe that is denied or completely ignored by the local authorities, even as victims are too afraid to file a complaint and bring their torturers to justice.
To give an idea of the homophobia that reigns here, it is important to know that LGBTQI+ people aren’t even safe in death. Their graves are desecrated — if they have graves. In many cases, their bodies are turned away by most cemeteries, following a rigorous interpretation of Muslim scriptures. That happened most recently in Rufiscque on Feb. 4.
What have been the latest political developments in Senegal and the sub-region since December 2021?
Apart from the victory of the Lions of Teranga at the CAN (African Cup of Nations) in Cameroon on Feb. 6, which was a moment of national harmony, the situation is bleak for LGBTQI+ people in Senegal as well as elsewhere in West Africa.
Our environments are characterized by the Islamist terrorist peril in the Sahel, the rise of authoritarian military juntas in neighboring countries (Guinea), or the continuation of aging leaders who cling to power through numerous constitutional changes, in addition to the deleterious homophobia that persists.
President Macky Sall still has two years left in his term. The fact that he received Muslim religious dignitaries at the presidential palace on Jan. 27 to assure them that he would never decriminalize homosexuality reveals a fear that the opposition is gaining ground.
[Attempts to make Senegalese laws more repressive have fallen short, but may be gaining support.
At first four and then 13 deputies recently tabled a bill inspired by And Samm Djikko Yi that seeks prison sentences of five to 10 years and fines of 1 to 5 million CFA francs (about US $1,732 to $8,660) for anyone found guilty of “lesbianism, homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, intersexuality, zoophilia, necrophilia and other similar practices”.]
Ànd Sàmm Jikko yi continues to raise its homophobic voice. Sunday’s rally is designed to hammer home the case for the immediate extra-criminalization of homosexuality, while hate speech and videos of abuses against LGBTQI+ people are becoming increasingly common.
As a human rights defender, it’s clear to me that Senegal’s sporting achievements are no longer able to distract people’s attention from the inability of our political class to offer a narrative of progress for the future of our country and the entire African continent.