Nine Senegalese men who were sentenced to eight years in prison for “indecent conduct and unnatural acts” are appealing against the decision.

The men, most of whom belong to a group set up to combat HIV/AIDS, appeared at the Dakar Court of Appeal yesterday with their attorneys.

The men’s counsel argued that there was no material proof for the accusations, no specific complainant had filed charges against the men and that the time of their arrests (after 10pm) was illegal.

The prosecution has not contested the defence plea.

The nine men were arrested in December last year at the apartment of Diadji Diouf, a prolific LGBT leader, and sentenced in January.

Biram Sassoum Sy, a lawyer for the nine men, was optimistic about the outcome.

“We have good hopes,” he told journalists on at the appeal yesterday.

He added that if the judges accept that there were technical irregularities, the case would be dismissed and the detainees freed immediately.

A judgement is expected on April 20th.

Gay rights groups believe the eight-year sentence is the harshest ever handed down to anyone accused of gay crimes.

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 2008, 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.