Ten men have been jailed in Mauritania after a video emerged of a gay couple appearing to take part in a traditional wedding ceremony.
Homosexuality is illegal in the North African country of Mauritania and punishable by death under Sharia law, although there are no known cases of executions in the past decade.
The arrest of the ten men marks a rare enforcement of the Islamic law, and if convicted they could face the death penalty by stoning.
They were detained by police after a video of the ceremony surfaced on social media. It soon began circulating in local news and in neighbouring countries such as Senegal, prompting an outcry at what was suspected of being the first gay marriage in Mauritania.
“The prosecutor’s office sent the young homosexual delinquents to prison to await judgment for acts contrary to morality, committing acts forbidden by Allah and circulating a ceremony of debauchery,” a source told AFP.
Police Commissioner Mohamed Ould Nejib said investigators had established that the ceremony occurred at “the birthday celebration of a homosexual” on January 11, to which other gays had been invited.
All of the men are Mauritanian nationals employed as “domestic workers” in Nouakchott, Mauritania’s capital. They remain in police detention to “to help investigations.”
Criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa
Same-sex acts are illegal in more than 33 African countries and can lead to death sentences in parts of at least four, including Mauritania, Sudan, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia.
Many African nations’ strictest anti-gay laws are relics from colonial times, having been introduced to the country as part of the British penal code.
Uganda recently proposed reinstating the death penalty in a bill colloquially called ‘Kill the Gays’. The government later backtracked on this after an international uproar, but the public support for the law indicated the prevailing anti-gay sentiment in the region.
In recent years however, Angola, Mozambique and the Seychelles have legalised homosexuality, and in South Africa it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexuality.
In June last year, the High Court in Botswana decriminalised homosexuality, but the country’s chief prosecutor lodged an appeal.