At least ten men have been arrested and imprisoned for homosexuality in Cameroon so far this year. Not only for what they do, but for who they are, or even appear to be.
“We are receiving an increasing number of reports that individuals are being targeted not only because of their sexual behaviour, which is the subject of these discriminatory laws, but because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This use of criminal law to punish identities, as well as behaviours, is deeply concerning,” said Salil Shetty of Amnesty International in a statement issued on Sept. 26.
“We have received information that at least some of these men were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment while in custody,” said Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch in the same statement.
One of the men, Roger Jean Claude Mbede, a 29-year-old student who was sentenced to three years in jail for homosexuality and attempted homosexuality, had his appeal of that judgment on Monday, November 7.
Mdebe was convicted, even though there was no evidence of criminal conduct, according to Human Rights Watch.
“A prison term can be life-threatening for inmates, particularly those who are presumed to be homosexual,” said Dipika Nath of Human Rights Watch.
At the appeal, Mbede was represented by Alice Nkom, 66, a noted lawyer and LGBT rights activist who has been defending LGBT clients for more than 10 years despite threats of arrest and violence. In recognition of her activism, she was named the Grand Marshall of Montreal’s gay pride parade in August.
“Homophobia is endemic in Cameroonian society and even the National Human Rights Commission refuses to recognise and defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Arrests, prosecutions and trials of gay men occur on a regular basis.”
A police crackdown is not the only problem. There was a surge in anti-LGBT violence in early September.
“In the last two weeks violence against gay people in Cameroon has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels: the situation is quickly becoming a crisis,” said Alice Nkom, one of the few lawyers willing to defend LGBT clients, in a letter posted online on Sept. 15.
“I’ve heard countless recent stories of homophobic violence throughout the country,” she adds. “I’m 66, and in ten years of defending lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people in Cameroon, it has never been this bad.”
In Cameroon, adult consensual gay and lesbian sex is punishable with a fine and up to five years in jail. A proposed reform would increase the prison term to 8 years when homosexual acts involve a person between the ages of 16 and 21 years, and to 15 years when it involves sex with minors under 16.
The change, said Nkom, would create confusion between homosexuality and pedophilia, “which will allow judges to condemn more people more easily.”
In mid-September, Nkom launched an international online petition against homophobia in Cameroon. On Oct 10, she said the online petition already had an impact; the government knows that the world is watching. So far, the petition has been signed by more than 61,000 people, but Nkom is seeking 100,000 supporters.
You can sign the Care2 petition ‘Stop LGBT Discrimination in Cameroon!‘ — which already has more than 20,000 signatures.
The West African state is a member of the Commonwealth, but the majority of its population speaks French. Its 19 million inhabitants are 70% Catholic, with significant Muslim and animist minorities.
Photo credit cmduke