A leading human rights group is calling on its members to protest against the conviction of six men in Morocco accused of “lewd of unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”

Amnesty International wants its 2.2 million members worldwide to write to the Moroccan authorities demanding the release of men, who were convicted on 10 December.

They have been in jail since they were first arrested by the police between November 23rd and 25th 2007, after a video circulated online, including on YouTube, purporting to show a private party, allegedly including the men, taking place in Ksar el-Kbir on November 18th.

Press reports claimed the party was a “gay marriage.”

The court of first instance in Ksar el-Kbir, a small city about 120km south of Tangiers, convicted the men.

Their appeal hearing begins next Tuesday.

According to lawyers for the defendants, the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the men actually had engaged in the prohibited conduct in the first place.

At the trial, all six men maintained their innocence of the charges.

All denied that they had engaged in same-sex sexual relations during the party.

The Youtube video was broadcast at the trial but did not present any evidence of “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”

Despite the lack of evidence, the men were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and fines.

Three men were sentenced to six months imprisonment and two others to four months imprisonment.

The owner of the house where the party took place, Fouad Friret, was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment on account of homosexual conduct and for allegedly selling alcohol illegally.

The defendants range in age from 20 to 61 years old.

Tim Hancock, Campaigns Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“The fact that the six men were convicted purely on rumour shows how prevalent homophobia is in Morocco.

“Amnesty International considers the use of laws to imprison individuals for same-sex relations as a grave violation of their fundamental human rights.

“Amnesty has called for their sentences to be overturned and is calling on its members across the world to email or fax the Moroccan embassy demanding their immediate release.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified, bars interference with the right to privacy.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned laws against consensual homosexual conduct as violations of the ICCPR.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has held that arrests for consensual homosexual conduct are, by definition, human rights violations.

In a private letter sent last month to Moroccan Justice Minister Abdelwahed Radi before the trial, US-based Human Rights Watch urged the government to drop the charges and release the men.

The letter also urged authorities to ensure the men’s physical safety, in light of the large and menacing mass demonstrations that took place against them.

“In applying an unjust law in an unjust fashion, the Ksar el-Kbir court has fueled the forces of intolerance in Morocco,” said Whitson.

“If Morocco truly aspires to be a regional leader on human rights, it should lead the way in decriminalising homosexual conduct.”