Two Ivorian men who were arrested in October and released from prison this week remain unclear as to their offense. While it is presumed that a public indecency law was used to inculpate both openly gay men, they deny any improper behavior or even sexual involvement with each other.
Ivory Coast does not outlaw same-sex relations, unlike some other African nations such as neighboring Nigeria, and typically has held a reputation for tolerance towards its LGBT community. However, there are troubling signs that this may be changing, especially following the recent abuse of men who were inadvertently outed by the American embassy in Abidjan after being photographed signing a condolence book following the Orlando Pulse massacre. Previously in 2014, the country’s largest LGBT organization was targeted and its headquarters attacked by a large mob.
Yann, 31, and Abdoul, 19, were each initially detained in their southwestern village and then convicted with three-month sentences in November at a hearing in the coastal town of Sassandra. At the time, officials refused to comment on the specifics of the case, claiming that everything was already public record. That refusal has continued even after the men’s release:
Though prosecutors have declined to confirm the charge against them, activists say if the indecency law was used it would be the first known instance of the provision being used to jail gay people in the country.
Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, said: “A vague law, arbitrary arrests and an unexplained conviction: this is completely contrary to the rule of law. The government needs to come clean and offer an explanation to these two young men who have spent three months in jail for no apparent reason.”
“We were convicted in an unjust manner,” [said Yann.] “If there is no law that that condemns it, I don’t understand how we could have been convicted.”
Both men, without access to legal aid or LGBT resources given the remoteness of their locale, did not appeal their sentence in order to avoid prolonging the process. Now they plan to relocate to Abidjan, the largest city in Ivory Coast, in order to start over and hopefully elude further harassment by authorities. But their unfortunate case serves as a warning to Ivorian LGBT activists, as well as their allies abroad, to step up their efforts.