Video footage has emerged that appears to show a gay man’s body being dug up from a grave and burned by vigilantes.
The mob of people arrived at a cemetery in the city of Kaolack on Saturday evening, October 28, to search for the grave of a man buried the day before, according to prosecutors.
Local media reported that the vigilantes targeted the body because the dead man had been gay. However, information about the man’s sexual orientation was not included in the prosecutor’s statement, reports news wire service Agence France-Presse.
The video footage shared on local and social media shows people gathered around a large fire, filming the scene on their phones.
Homosexuality and consensual same-sex relations, deemed “against nature” in the Muslim-majority country, are criminalized and carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.
While homosexuality is largely not accepted in Senegalese society, the incident offended many because it was viewed as disrespecting the dead.
Senegal’s judiciary said it was opening an investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators, whom it accused of “barbarity.”
A local police official told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that four individuals suspected of “being among the masterminds” of the desecration of the man’s grave have been arrested.
Although the incident is not common, it is also not the first time that the body of someone thought to be gay has been exhumed. At least two cases of similar incidents were documented in the central and western parts of the country between 2008 and 2009.
According to local media, the deceased man’s family had first sought to bury the man in Senegal’s holy city of Touba, but were denied, in part, due to allegations of him being gay. His relatives then tried to bury him near his home, but neighbors objected, forcing the family to find another resting place in the cemetery at Kaolack.
Amnesty International Senegal, along with two local human rights organizations, condemned the incident, saying it “violates the dignity of the deceased and his family.”
While prominent figures in the Muslim community have condemned the desecration of the man’s grave, they have also been among those calling for greater crackdowns on LGBTQ rights and harsher laws similar to the one recently passed in Uganda and proposed in countries like Kenya and Ghana.
Serigne Cheikh Tidiane Khalifa Niasse, who heads a local branch of the influential Tidianes religious brotherhood, condemned the acts in Kaolack. He expressed “profound indignation and categorical condemnation of the reprehensible act that was committed against an individual for whom we have no responsibility whatsoever in terms of his private life.”
He added, “This act can in no way be justified or tolerated.”
An official from the group “And Samm Jikko Yi” (Together for the Safeguarding of Values), which advocates for harsher penalties for those engaged in same-sex relations, called the incident a form of “mob justice” that was “regrettable.”
But that same spokesperson for the group blamed the Senegalese government for giving the impression that LGBTQ people already enjoy too many legal protections, arguing that the government’s failure to crack down on homosexuality led to a backlash from the vigilantes.
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