The United Nations AIDS organisation and representatives of the European Union have called on Senegal to decriminalise homosexuality after the arrest of nine gay men.

On December 19th 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.

All nine were convicted earlier this month of criminal conspiracy and engaging in acts against the order of nature and sentenced to eight years in jail.

UNAIDS said it “deplores” the arrests and said it is leading a coalition bringing together organisations from civil society, the public sector and partners such as the French Embassy and the Swedish Embassy, representing the European Union, to lobby for the release of the detainees.

“There is no place for homophobia,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

“Universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support must be accessible to all people in Senegal who are in need—including men who have sex with men.

“This will only happen if the men convicted are released and steps taken to rebuild trust with affected communities.”

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.”

UNAIDS said that homophobia and criminalisation of consensual adult sexual behaviour represent major barriers to effective responses to HIV.

It recommended that criminal law prohibiting sexual acts between consenting adults in private should be reviewed with the aim of repeal and urged the release of the nine detainees.

UNAIDS also wants the Government of Senegal “to take steps to eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by men who have sex with men and create an enabling legal environment for them and the organisations working with them so as to protect their rights and increase access for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.”