Five women were arrested for violating the Senegalese anti-gay law last week in the West African nation of Dakar, Senegal.
The women were taken into custody during a birthday party in Dakar’s Yoff district, according to KWQC. Ndeye Kebe, president of the only lesbian activist group in the country, Women’s Smile, said that this district has been described as a meeting place for the LGBT community in Senegal by the press.
In Senegal, committing an “improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex,” can lead to up to five years in prison and a $3,000 fine. Arrests have become more common since 2008 when the Human Rights Watch described the country as going under an anti-gay “moral panic.”
While raids against suspected gay men are much more frequent than against lesbians in the Muslim-majority country, Kebe said that lesbians have been receiving a lot of pressure from scandals that have been in the media. For example, a man put cell-phone coverage of his 18-year-old girlfriend online when he caught her kissing another woman and she was forced to flee the country.
“In Senegal when we talk about homosexuality we are usually talking about men, and we forget about the women,” Kebe said. “But people are now on the hunt for lesbians.”
So far, at least 30 women have been interrogated by police for allegedly going against the anti-gay laws.
President Barack Obama had a press conference in Dakar with Senegalese President Macky Sall in June, but the two openly clashed about their views on decriminalizing homosexual acts. Sall insisted that Senegal was “not ready” to take such a step, and said that gays were only prosecuted if caught violating the law.
“The women said they were just sitting at a table,” Kebe said. “There were more than 100 people at the bar, and the police went directly to their table.”
She believes the restaurant was familiar with the women’s work with Women’s Smile and tipped off the police.
Since the November 11 arrest, a judge has ruled there is “insufficient evidence to convict four woman accused of violating the country’s law banning homosexual acts.”
The fifth woman is a minor, and will be tried separately.