A court in Cameroon has sentenced three gay men arrested in July to five years in prison for engaging in gay sex, their lawyer said on Wednesday.

Michel Togue told AFP that: “It’s a bad ruling because it is a blatant violation of the law”.

The sentences are believed to be the toughest prescribed by the country’s law.

Gay rights groups in Cameroon have reacted in horror at the judgement.

“It’s a shocking and unacceptable,” said Alice Nkom, president of the gay advocacy group Adefho.

She added: “It is not worthy of a country that speaks of human rights”.

In an interview with PinkNews.co.uk earlier this month, Nkom spoke of her ongoing struggle to protect gays against prosecution under Cameroonian law.

Thirty eight of Africa’s 53 countries currently have laws penalising homosexuality and the trend in recent years has been to issue even stronger penalties.

Sismondi Barlev Bidjocka, head of an umbrella youth organisation which includes more than 400 associations, said that he was “very pleased” by the ruling, adding that the West was trying to impose its values on Cameroon.

“We are in a war against homosexuals,” he said.

In September, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Cameron President Paul Biya expressing concern over the country’s desire to introduce even tougher anti-gay laws.