January 15, 2008 / 10:55 PM / in 11 years

Morocco court upholds jail for 6 for homosexual acts

RABAT (Reuters) - A Moroccan appeal court on Tuesday upheld the convictions of six men jailed for homosexual acts after video images of a man dressed as a woman dancing at a party sparked street protests and a police investigation, lawyers said.

The six were arrested in late November after rumours spread that a party they had held in the northern town of Ksar el Kebir was really an illegal gay wedding.

The national press pounced on the story, and Islamist groups condemned what they saw as an attack on public morals and demanded an official investigation.

Hundreds of angry residents marched through Ksar el Kebir to demand “justice” and put pressure on the authorities to hand out harsh sentences.

The six men were found guilty and given jail sentences by a lower court last month. They had all pleaded not guilty.

The appeal court upheld a 10-month sentence against the party’s alleged organiser, identified as F., for homosexuality and the illegal sale of alcohol, defence lawyer Mohamed Sebbar said.

The five others had their jail terms cut to between two and four months from between four and six months, he said. All six had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“It’s a very severe judgment because this case is empty,” said Sebbar. “There is no proof that these men practised homosexuality in the affair of Ksar el Kebir.”

“Lewd or unnatural acts” between people of the same sex are crimes under Moroccan law and those found guilty face between six months and three years in jail and a fine of up to 1,000 Moroccan dirhams ($130).

Amnesty International said it considered the men to be prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate release.

“We’re also concerned for their safety,” said Amnesty’s Benedicte Goderiaux. “Some of them should get out of prison within about 15 days — what will happen to them after all the public threats against them?”

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