- AIDS - homosexuality - justice - Senegal
AFP - Dakar's court of appeal on Monday overturned jail convictions for homosexuality against nine Senegalese nationals and ordered their immediate release.
The chairman of the appeal court Bara Niang annulled "the official statement in the case and the subsequent procedure" and ordered the arrest warrants against the men lifted.
The men, who were sentenced by a lower court to eight years in prison for homosexual conduct, were due to be released immediately, their lawyers said.
Part of a group involved in HIV/AIDS education, they were convicted of "indecent acts against nature" and membership of a criminal organisation after their arrests in December at a private apartment in a Dakar suburb.
Defence lawyers argued at the beginning of the appeal last week that the police report on which the accusations against the men was based relied mainly on anonymous tip-offs. In addition they said the men were not caught in the act as the prosecution had suggested during the trial.
The prosecution did not contest the defence claims.
Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal where 95 percent of the population is Muslim, and homosexual acts are punishable with up to five years in prison.
The additional three years in prison was due to the judge in the initial trial ruling that the association most of the men worked for was actually a cover for recruiting gay men, according to media reports.
The eight-year sentence was the highest ever to be handed down in Senegal for a homosexuality conviction. It was met with international outrage, notably among human rights organisations. It also prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy to express his "emotion and concern" at the original verdict.
The defence had protested the men's detention in a notoriously cramped jail in Dakar, arguing they faced constant insults and threats, before they were transferred for their own security to another centre.