Eight men sentenced to two years in prison for ‘imitating women’ at a birthday party in Mauritania

A Mauritanian court has sentenced eight men to two years in prison for the crime of attending a birthday party.

Police arrested ten men when a video that appeared to be Mauritania’s ‘first gay wedding’ began circulating on social media. Homosexuality is strictly illegal in the North African country and punishable by death under Sharia law, although there were no known executions in the past decade.

The video prompted a public outcry in Mauritania and neighbouring countries such as Senegal, with the men accused of “acts contrary to morality, committing acts forbidden by Allah and circulating a ceremony of debauchery”.

The Nouakchott police commissioner later acknowledged in a television interview that the event was not a same-sex wedding, as had been reported on social media, but a simple birthday celebration.

He justified the men’s arrest by saying that they had committed the crime of “imitating women.”

According to the police report, eight of the accused “confessed that they are homosexuals” during police interrogations, at which they had no legal representation. They later refuted all allegations related to their sexuality at their trial on January 30.

Two men were acquitted, but the remaining eight were sentenced to two years in prison for “indecency” and “inciting debauchery” under articles 264 and 306 of the Mauritanian penal code.

One woman received a one-year suspended sentence for participating in inciting debauchery by being present at the event.

Mauritanian national flag (CARMEN ABD ALI/AFP/ Getty)

LGBT+ advocates have expressed their horror at the harsh sentencing and the defendants’ lawyer has filed an urgent appeal.

After reviewing the video, Human Rights Watch said that it shows people at a party singing and dancing, but there is “no behaviour anyone could object to as illegal as reasonably defined”.

“The authorities appear to have imprisoned the eight defendants on the basis that singing and dancing at a birthday party is a crime in Mauritania,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch.

“Mauritania can’t shy away from its obligations to protect basic rights of all its citizens without discrimination.”

He urged the authorities to immediately release all those who were sentenced.

Previous Human Rights Watch research shows that Mauritanian authorities have repeatedly violated citizens’ right to free expression using myriad repressive laws.