A court in Senegal has sentenced a group of men arrested at the home of a leading figure in the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to lengthy prison terms.

They were convicted of criminal conspiracy and engaging in acts against the order of nature and sentenced to eight years in jail.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said the prosecutor had asked for a sentence of five years, the maximum penalty provided by Senegalese law in sodomy cases.

On December 19 police raided the apartment of Mr Diadji Diouf, who heads AIDES Senegal, an organisation providing HIV prevention services to men who have sex with men, and arrested him and his guests.

They appeared in court this week.

IGLHRC said it is “deeply concerned by what appears to be a violation of the right to a free and fair trial, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom from discrimination.”

Homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment of between one and five years in Senegal.

Last year the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights expressed concern over the rise of homophobia and hatred of homosexuals in Senegal.

Muslim organisations in the African nation have warned against “enemies of the faith and of morality.”

In February the release from prison of several men arrested on suspicion of homosexuality following the publication of photographs of a same-sex “marriage ceremony” led to riots, acres of print and media coverage and a conspiracy theory. Some gay men were driven out of their homes.

The fact the accused were released led local media to speculate that they were threatening to reveal “high-ranking state officials” are gay.

Afrol News reported that “dozens of Senegalese homosexuals” have left the country to escape death threats.

In August a 61-year-old Belgian and his 63-year-old Senegalese husband were sentenced to two years in jail for “homosexual marriage and acts against nature.”

The couple, Richard Lambot and Moustapha Gueye, were married in Belgium in July and then returned to Africa.