Even after death, abuse against gays continues

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by Rukmini Callimachi
Associated Press Writer

THIES, Senegal (AP)—Even death cannot stop the violence against gays in this corner of the world any more.

Madieye Diallo’s body had only been in the ground for a few hours when the mob descended on the weedy cemetery with shovels. They yanked out the corpse, spit on its torso, dragged it away and dumped it in front of the home of his elderly parents.

The scene of May 2, 2009 was filmed on a cell phone and the video sold at the market. It passed from phone to phone, sowing panic among gay men who say they now feel like hunted animals.

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HOMOPHOBIA IN AFRICA—This Feb. 5, photo shows Ousmane Diallo holding a picture of Madieye Diallo at his shop in Thies, Senegal. A wave of intense homophobia is washing across Africa, where homosexuality is already illegal in at least 37 countries.

“I locked myself inside my room and didn’t come out for days,” says a 31-year-old gay friend of Diallo’s who is ill with HIV. “I’m afraid of what will happen to me after I die. Will my parents be able to bury me?”

A wave of intense homophobia is washing across Africa, where homosexuality is already illegal in at least 37 countries.

In the last year alone, gay men have been arrested in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison and include capital punishment for “repeat offenders.” And in South Africa, the only country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called “corrective” rapes on lesbians.

“Across many parts of Africa, we’ve seen a rise in homophobic violence,” says London-based gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell, whose organization tracks abuse against gays and lesbians in Africa. “It’s been steadily building for the last 10 years but has got markedly worse in the last year.”

To the long list of abuse meted out to suspected homosexuals in Africa, Senegal has added a new form of degradation—the desecration of their bodies.

In the past two years, at least four men suspected of being gay have been exhumed by angry mobs in cemeteries in Senegal. The violence is especially shocking because Senegal, unlike other countries in the region, is considered a model of tolerance.

“It’s jarring to see this happen in Senegal,” says Ryan Thoreson, a fellow at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission who has been researching the rise of homophobia here. “When something like this happens in an established democracy, it’s alarming.”

Even though homosexuality is illegal in Senegal, colonial documents indicate the country has long had a clandestine gay community. In many towns, they were tacitly accepted, says Cheikh Ibrahima Niang, a professor of social anthropology at Senegal’s largest university. In fact, the visibility of gays in Senegal may have helped to prompt the backlash against them.

The grave-robbing has shocked even hardened gay activists, such as Nigerian Davis Mac-Iyalla.

“People have done horrible things (in Nigeria). I have seen people spit on coffins and people spit on graves,” he said. “But it stopped there.”

When the AP tried to speak to Diallo’s elderly father at his shop on the main thoroughfare in Thies, his other children demanded the reporter leave. One sister covered her face and sobbed. Another said, “There are no homosexuals here.”

Hours after he died, his family took Diallo’s body to a nearby mosque, where custom holds the corpse should be bathed and wrapped in a white cloth. Before the family could bathe him, news reached the mosque that Diallo was gay and they were chased out, says the dead man’s friend. His relatives hastily wrapped him in a sheet and headed to the cemetery, where they carried him past the home of Babacar Sene.

“A man that’s known as being a homosexual can’t be buried in a cemetery. His body needs to be thrown away like trash,” says Sene. “His parents knew that he was gay and they did nothing about it. So when he died we wanted to make sure he was punished.”

The video footage captured on a cell phone shows what happened next. His thin body was placed inside a narrow trough in the middle of the bald cemetery dotted with clumps of weeds. Then you hear shouting.

The shaky image shows a group of men jerking around the edges of the grave. One of them straddles the pit and shovels away the fine gray dirt until you can see the shrouded body. It’s still inside the trough when they tie a rope around its feet.

They yank it out, cheering as the body bends over the lip of the grave. The shroud catches on the ground and tears off, revealing the dead man’s torso.

Rassul Djitte, 48, watched from behind the wall of a nearby school. He had not known Diallo personally, but says he felt a stab. “People were rejoicing,” he says. “They dragged him past me and his body left tracks in the sand. Like a car passing through snow.”

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