Seven gay Cameroonians who were on trial for “sodomy” have been jailed for 10 months, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) claims.
Since the men have already been detained in a Kondegui Prison in Yaoundé for more than one year, they are expected to be released shortly for time served.
One of the men, Christian Angoula, suffered a homophobic attack by fellow prisoners last week and had to be carried into the courtroom. Two other men–Ayissi Francois and Lamba Marc Lambert–were acquitted of all charges.
“We can only begin to imagine the impact that unfair imprisonment and now these bogus convictions has had on these men,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s senior coordinator for Africa. “The abuse they have suffered is unacceptable.”
“One wonders on what basis the convictions were made as there was no evidence presented by the prosecution of the commission of sodomy,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, explaining that homosexuality per se is not a crime in Cameroon and conviction on sodomy charges requires being apprehended or witnessed in the act.
“These men were railroaded and the guilty verdicts make a mockery of the Cameroonian justice system. IGLHRC salutes the lawyers and activists who stood by them.
“And though they may be leaving prison, they do so under a cloud and with their lives in tatters. This verdict does not bode well for freedom in Cameroon,” she said.
Two other men were convicted on sodomy charges earlier this year and sentenced to one year in prison. Four women are awaiting trial on the same charges. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared that sodomy laws are inconsistent with countries’ obligations to non-discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. At its 39th Session in Banjul, Gambia last month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also questioned the Cameroonian government about its continued detention of the men.
The West African nation has become famous this past year for detention of its citizens on “sodomy charges,” sanctioning the expelling of young women from secondary schools for their stated sexual orientation, and for “gay baiting” high level officials and public personalities with charges of homosexuality in local papers. IGLHRC believes that in the past year at least 30 young people, mainly girls, have been thrown out of their academic institutions on suspicion of same-sex behavior and identity. Two men were recently arrested in an Internet dating sting, but then released, and four lesbian women are reportedly in police custody.
In a communication to IGLHRC, the Minister of Justice in Cameroon, Amadou Ali, had justified the detention of the men in Yaoundé as ensuring “that positive African cultural values are preserved.” According to Mr Ali, “homosexuality is not a value accepted in the Cameroonian society.” Section 347(bis) Ordinance No 72-16 of the 28 September 1972 penal code, makes homosexuality an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. Public sentiment regarding gay and lesbian identity is harsh and most same-gender loving people live lives shrouded in secrecy and fear.