Amnesty International has urged Pope Benedict XVI to condemn the criminalisation of homosexuality when he meets with African bishops today in Cameroon.

Cameroon criminalises same-sex relations and the charity has said dozens of young men and women have been jailed or fined for allegedly engaging in homosexual behaviour over the last three years.

Tawanda Hondora, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme, said: “The Pope should take the important opportunity of this visit to Cameroon to make clear that the Holy See abhors any attacks or persecution of people based on their sexual orientation, and call on the government to decriminalise homosexuality.”

The Holy See said at a meeting of the UN General Assembly in December 2008 that it “continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided, and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them.”

A case highlighted by Amnesty is that of two men who were arrested in August 2007 by gendarmes in Yaoundé, and accused of engaging in same-sex sexual relations.

They were detained at Kondengui prison and subjected to anal examinations in an attempt by the authorities to establish if they had engaged in sexual acts, which is a violation of the prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The men were found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail. They were released soon after their trial because they had already spent more than six months in custody.

Tawanda Hondora continued: “Dozens of Cameroonian men and women have been detained solely for their actual or perceived engagement in consensual same-sex sexual relations. This is simply unacceptable.

“We hope that the Pope will make this clear to the government and the Church’s leaders and many followers in Cameroon during his visit.”

In December, Pope Benedict claimed that the existence of gay people is as great a threat to humanity as the destruction of the rainforest.

He also attacked transgender people and claimed that a “blurring” of genders would lead to the extinction of the human race.

The pontiff made his remarks in an “end of year” address to the Vatican’s central administration, the Curia.

He said behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations is “a destruction of God’s work.”

Benedict also said man must be protected “from the destruction of himself” and urged respect for the “nature of the human being as man and woman.”

“The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”